Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/oregon-state-beavers-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
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There’s a renewed optimism around Oregon State basketball, and for good reason. The Beavers, who were picked to finish a distant last in the 2014-15 Pac-12 preseason poll, became one of the game’s feel-good stories during Wayne Tinkle’s debut season in Corvallis. Oregon State finished 17–14 overall, captured a program-record 15 home victories and recorded a massive upset of Pac-12 power Arizona. A roster short on talent and experience utilized stifling defense — paced by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton II — to frustrate opponents and grind out victories, putting Oregon State in the conversation for an NIT berth down the stretch.

 

Still, Tinkle does not believe his squad overachieved in Year 1. He points to the way the Beavers’ thin roster sputtered down the stretch, resulting in losses in seven of their last eight games. Tinkle declined an invitation to the College Basketball Invitational, instead opting to rest and focus on the following season.

 

And with a top-25 recruiting class merging with Oregon State’s core of returning players, the Beavers are eyeing their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1990.

 

Pac-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

 

Oregon State’s long list of potential impact newcomers starts with Tres Tinkle, Wayne’s son and a four-star recruit. At 6'8" and 220 pounds, he boasts length and versatility to shoot from the perimeter or finish at the basket while playing the 3 or 4. Fellow incoming freshman Drew Eubanks, a four-star prospect from Oregon, packs impressive, raw athleticism into his 6'10", 240-pound frame.

 

Meanwhile, senior Daniel Gomis’ decision to return to the Beavers rather than step away from basketball to pursue other opportunities after graduating this spring provides a big lift. His 4.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season are far from eye-popping, but his physical presence as a rim protector made him Oregon State’s top post player. He’ll also be relied on as a veteran leader.

 

Additionally, senior Jarmal Reid has earned praise from Tinkle because of the way he’s transformed his body to become more athletic during the offseason. Fellow senior Olaf Schaftenaar was the Beavers’ best 3-point shooter a year ago (37.6 percent) but still has work to do to use his 6'10", 235-pound frame to score with his back to the basket. Cheikh N’diaye, a 7-foot junior from Senegal, was used in spurts last season but needs to improve his strength and conditioning to increase his playing time. Justin Stangel, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship before last season, could be the Beavers’ most improved player and a potential contributor in his final season.

 


Oregon State Beavers Facts & Figures

Record: 17-14, 8-10 Pac-12

Postseason: None

Last NCAA Tournament: 1990

Pac-12 Projection: 6

Postseason Projection: First Round

 


Backcourt

 

The unquestioned heartbeat of the 2014-15 Beavers was Payton II, the son of NBA legend Gary Payton, the best player in Oregon State history. Payton II led the Beavers in scoring (13.4 ppg) while dishing out 3.2 assists per game, playing relentless defense on the perimeter (3.1 spg) and bringing rare toughness inside. Payton II is only 6'3", but he led the team in rebounding (by a wide margin) at 7.5 per game and ranked second in blocks (1.2 bpg). He continues to work on his shot and ball handling, two qualities that will help him develop into a pro.

 

Upperclassmen Malcolm Duvivier, one of three double-figure scorers last year (10.7 ppg), and Langston Morris-Walker will be needed as veteran leaders and complementary options on offense. But the Beavers’ backcourt will also feature some fresh, highly touted contributors. Stephen Thompson Jr., the son of the Oregon State assistant coach, was a top-50 overall national recruit because of his deadly outside jumper and ability to finish in the paint. Freshman point guard Derrick Bruce, meanwhile, can push the tempo and play lockdown perimeter defense.

 


Key Loss: G/F Victor Robbins

Top Players: G Gary Payton II, G Malcolm Duvivier, G Langston Morris-Walker, F Tres Tinkle, F Olaf Schaftenaar

 


Newcomers

 

Tres Tinkle, Stephen Thompson, Drew Eubanks and Derrick Bruce are the obvious highlights of the Beavers’ highly touted class, but big man Gligorije Rakocevic and guard Kendal Manuel can also play. Rakocevic blends intense physicality with underrated skills around the basket. Manuel, a late addition to the class, is primarily a shooter who played on Tres Tinkle’s AAU team.

 

Final Analysis

 

Obviously, expectations are high for Oregon State, both inside and outside the program. The Beavers have already bought into a feisty defensive philosophy. Now, they’ve added natural scorers who should help alleviate the team’s extended offensive droughts.

 

Still, Tinkle has preached that, even with these talented newcomers, it could take some time for this team to develop chemistry. The coach is confident, though, that the Beavers are in a better position to finish strong because of the added depth. Tinkle hopes that it all leads to the Beavers’ snapping a 25-year March Madness drought.

Teaser:
Oregon State Beavers 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 12:41
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/ucla-bruins-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
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This is UCLA, and as Steve Alford enters his third season at the helm of the program with 11 NCAA championships, the pressure is on to move past the Sweet 16 following consecutive regional semifinal appearances.

 

As the Bruins aim higher entering the 2015-16 season, they’re aided by the fact they return plenty of able bodies. The 11 scholarship players on the roster represent the most Alford has had since he arrived in 2013.

 

The hope in Westwood is that the Bruins can find the right blend of experience and incoming freshman talent. “I think we’re right there, knocking on the door of really making a special run,” junior guard Bryce Alford says.

 

Pac-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.

 

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



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Frontcourt

 

When it comes to replacing first-round draft pick Kevon Looney, UCLA will need to do so in two primary ways.

 

It must replace Looney, the rebounder, whose 9.2 rebounds per game were second most in the Pac-12. The logical candidate is center Tony Parker, a 6'9", 260-pound senior who averaged 8.3 rebounds himself during the NCAA Tournament. Parker, once a top recruit out of Georgia, struggled early in his career, but he emerged as a quality big man a year ago, his first as a full-time starter.

 

Center Thomas Welsh averaged 15 minutes per game off the bench as a freshman and will help on the glass as well, likely seeing increased minutes after averaging 9.7 rebounds per 40 minutes. The 7-footer got additional experience in the summer playing for the U.S. U19 team at the FIBA World Championships.

 

As far as replacing Looney’s offensive production, part of that will fall to Jonah Bolden, a five-star prospect from Australia who was a part of UCLA’s decorated 2014 recruiting class. Bolden was ineligible to play last season, though he practiced with the team upon his arrival last January until he was sidelined due to knee surgery in May. The 6'10" Bolden is an inch taller than Looney, can score in a variety of ways and boasts a nice jump shot. If healthy, he’s the best bet to start at the 4, paired with Parker.

 

Forward György Golomán and junior college transfer Ikenna Okwarabizie add some depth to the frontline.

 


UCLA Bruins Facts & Figures

Record: 22-14, 11-7 Pac-12

Postseason: Sweet 16

Consecutive NCAAs: 3

Pac-12 Projection: 4

Postseason Projection: Second Round

 


Backcourt

 

The question of whether Bryce Alford should remain the Bruins’ starting point guard has been a divisive one through two seasons. He is a shooter first, and a streaky one. Alford shot 25 percent or worse in five Pac-12 games (four regular season, one tournament) as a sophomore, including an 0-of-10 performance at Utah. But he still finished second on the team in scoring, was its best 3-point threat and improved as a passer with better court awareness.

 

The arrival of freshman Aaron Holiday, the younger brother of Jrue Holiday, gives UCLA some options. Holiday is a skilled ball handler and distributor, and remains a logical candidate to start at point guard, thereby allowing Alford to slide over to the 2-guard spot, arguably his more natural position. Holiday could free up Isaac Hamilton — who split duties with Alford at point guard at the start of last season — to be more of a slasher, a role he found to his liking during the stretch run. The Bruins will need to replace the scoring of Norman Powell, whose 16.4 points per game led the team, and using Alford and Hamilton along the wings would give them more space to operate.

 

Incoming freshman Prince Ali, a “big, athletic guard who has tremendous versatility” according to the elder Alford, should provide additional scoring. The four-star prospect and McDonald’s All-American averaged 22.5 points per game as a high school senior. Ali is also a candidate to start, especially should Alford remain at point guard. Noah Allen, a 6'6" swingman, provides depth. He averaged just over 10 minutes per game as a sophomore last season.

 


Key Losses: F Kevon Looney, G Norman Powell

Top Players: G Aaron Holiday, G Bryce Alford, G Isaac Hamilton, F Jonah Bolden, F/C Tony Parker

 


Newcomers

 

The two freshman guards, both four-star prospects, figure to receive extended minutes right away. Aaron Holiday could end up as the starting point guard. Prince Ali, whose scoring and driving ability are reminiscent of Norman Powell, should be in the backcourt rotation as well and potentially start. Alex Olesinski is a versatile big man who can shoot, with a nice touch around the perimeter and the ability to guard multiple positions. Junior-college transfer Ikenna Okwarabizie adds depth and size.

 

Final Analysis

 

A deep roster gives UCLA hope that it might not only finish at the top of a wide-open Pac-12 but also make a deep tournament run in Year 3 under Steve Alford. The Bruins have not advanced past the Sweet 16 since 2008, when they made the last of three consecutive Final Four appearances. If Alford, who is 50–23 in his first two seasons, can successfully pair the veterans — three returning starters — with a top-25 recruiting class, UCLA might have a chance to meet those expectations.

Teaser:
UCLA Bruins 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 12:32
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/oregon-ducks-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
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The Oregon basketball program has been identified by two things during the tenure of head coach Dana Altman — roster turnover and winning. The first trend has continued as the 2015-16 season approaches, but the Ducks are confident that the second one will as well.

 

Fueled by the scoring punch of Joseph Young, Oregon went 26–10 last season and set a program record by winning at least 20 games for the fifth straight year. With Young now putting up shots for the Indiana Pacers, the Ducks will look elsewhere for points, not to mention the ball-handling role he filled with increasing frequency in 2014-15.

 

There’s at least one trend the Ducks hope to end when next March rolls around. After reaching the Sweet Sixteen in 2012-13 — nobody on the current roster remains from that squad — Oregon hasn’t made it beyond the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32 in either of the last two years. “We still haven’t gotten past that first weekend,” senior Elgin Cook says. “We’re going to practice hard every day so we can be conditioned enough, and condition our minds, to play that long.”

 

Pac-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.

 

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



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Frontcourt

 

With Young filling it up from outside, the Ducks were able to mask their lack of low-post scoring punch on most nights in 2014-15. They still don’t have a dominant scorer in the post, though sophomore Jordan Bell’s school-record 94 blocked shots as a freshman established him as an intimidating defensive presence.

 

What Oregon does boast is a trio of veteran wings who are threats both to go to the hole and pull up and shoot. Cook, Dwayne Benjamin and Dillon Brooks combined for an average of 32.9 points per game last season, and each has the ability to carry the scoring load at times. “We’re just going to go out there and play as a team,” Benjamin says. “One night it might be my night, next night might be Dillon’s night.”

 

Cook is the team’s top returning scorer after averaging 13.0 points per game as a junior. He may never be a scorer on the order of Young, but he’s worked hard over the last two years to clean up his jump shot and provide a complement for his ability to slash to the rim. “Just getting plenty of shots up — shooting off the dribble, catch-and-shoot,” Cook says. “Doing a lot of work.”

 

The Ducks did add some size in their recruiting class, with the Junior College Player of the Year — Chris Boucher — and four-star freshman Trevor Manuel. Like sophomore Roman Sorkin, they’re lanky big men who are as comfortable trying to score from outside as they are inside.

 


No. 21 Oregon Ducks Facts & Figures

Record: 26-10, 13-5 Pac-12

Postseason: Second Round

Consecutive NCAAs: 3

Pac-12 Projection: 3

Postseason Projection: Second Round

 


Backcourt

 

The loss of Young somewhat resembles having to replace two players since the natural shooting guard also handled the ball quite a bit during his senior season. Given the loss as well of starting 2-guard Jalil Abdul-Bassit, that’s a lot of minutes that Altman has to replace in the backcourt.

 

In keeping with his track record, Altman went out and nabbed a transfer who is expected to play a big role — in this case point guard Dylan Ennis, a fifth-year senior from Villanova. The Ducks also added one-time Arizona commit Tyler Dorsey, a top-25 recruit who can help replace Young’s scoring output. Sophomore Casey Benson and freshman Kendall Small provide depth.

 

To get all the newcomers on the same page, the Ducks went on a preseason trip to play five exhibition games in Spain in August.

 

“It’s all about the leadership of the fellows who have been here,” Benjamin says. “We‘re returning some important players from last year, so it’s just going to take us getting the new players involved.”

 


Key Losses: G Jalil Abdul-Bassit, G Joseph Young

Top Players: G Dylan Ennis, G Tyler Dorsey, F Elgin Cook, F Dillon Brooks, F Jordan Bell

 


Newcomers

 

As usual, Dana Altman combed the waiver wire and brought in transfers who are expected to have an immediate impact, including a couple who add size to the roster. Dylan Ennis is a projected starter at the point, and Chris Boucher provides badly needed size in the frontcourt. Tyler Dorsey should help fill the scoring void left by Joseph Young. Fellow freshmen Kendall Small and Trevor Manuel could round out the regular rotation.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Ducks may have been known for Young’s prolific scoring in 2014-15, but their defense — the bread-and-butter of a Dana Altman team — was as critical. Oregon went 17–0 when holding an opponent under 70 points, but 9–10 when the opponent hit for 70 or more.

 

The lack of size in the post forced Altman to employ more of a high-scoring, up-and-down pace than he preferred last season. He intends for the Ducks to be tougher on defense in 2015-16.

 

“That’s how we’re going to win most of our games,” Benjamin says. “Again, we won’t be the biggest team in the country. We’re going to win with our defense and our effort.”

Teaser:
Oregon Ducks 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 12:18
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/cal-bears-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
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A year after sitting home for college basketball’s postseason, the Golden Bears have other ideas about this season.

 

“I think we could be really good,” senior point guard Tyrone Wallace says. “I like the guys we have coming in, the recruiting class. We still have important parts here. I think we can make a real run at a Pac-12 championship.”

 

The arrival of five-star frontcourt recruits Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb to complement three returning double-digit scorers in the backcourt could transform Cal from a team that finished in a three-way tie for eighth in the Pac-12 into a legitimate contender.

 

Second-year coach Cuonzo Martin’s team has an infusion of offensive firepower and the depth and athleticism to play the pressure-style defense he wants. “I think we’ll fight for the top spot,” Martin says. “It’s exciting times.”

 

Pac-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.

 

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



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Frontcourt

 

The difference in the Bears is up front, where Brown, a small forward, was rated as the nation’s No. 4 prospect by 247Sports and Rabb, a power forward, secured the No. 7 spot.

 

Brown’s unexpected spring signing elevates the Bears. “You’re talking about a guy that’s 6'7", almost 6'8", who is 220 pounds, who can play four different positions,” Martin says. “He can handle the ball. He can shoot the ball. He gets to the rim. He plays inside. He plays outside. He’s one of those guys who’s always in attack mode. He brings the game to you.”

 

The 6'10" Rabb, whose signing helped attract Brown to Berkeley, should make a smooth transition, Martin says. “He has a lot of skills. He won’t be pressing, because he has experienced guards around him.”

 

Martin likes a big lineup, so it’s likely that either Kingsley Okoroh or Kameron Rooks will be on the floor whenever possible.

 

Okoroh, a 7'1" native of England, played 30 games as a freshman last season and showed flashes of potential, especially on defense, where he blocked 28 shots. Rooks, the 7-foot son of one-time Arizona star Sean Rooks, is healthy after missing all of last season to rehab a 2014 ACL injury. He has shed weight and should be able to provide some interior scoring.

 


No. 13 Cal Bears Facts & Figures

Record: 18-15, 7-11 Pac-12

Postseason: None

Last NCAA Tournament: 2013

Pac-12 Projection: 2

Postseason Projection: Sweet 16

 


Backcourt

 

Wallace led the Bears in all major statistical categories while earning first-team all-conference honors. He had 11 games of 20-plus  points and five double-digit rebounding efforts, but what the Bears need from him could change with the arrival of Rabb and Brown as legitimate scoring options. “When the game is on the line down the stretch, making free throws, making plays, making decisions — that’s the biggest thing,” Martin says of what he expects from Wallace. “Run his team and direct traffic.”

 

Jordan Mathews, a 44.3-percent 3-point shooter last season, should be even more dangerous on the perimeter with Cal’s improved interior presence. Jabari Bird, a former McDonald’s All-American, was slowed his first two seasons by midseason injuries from which he struggled to regain his confidence and rhythm. But he has high-level talent.

 

Sam Singer is a capable backup point guard who had four double-digit scoring games in Pac-12 play. Georgetown transfer Stephen Domingo, back in his native Bay Area, adds length and athleticism on the perimeter.

 

Junior Roger Moute a Bidias and sophomore Brandon Chauca will have to show substantial improvement to find their way into the rotation.

 


Key Losses:  F Christian Behrens, F David Kravish

Top Players: G Tyrone Wallace, G Jordan Matthews, G Jabari Bird, F Jaylen Brown, F Ivan Rabb

 


Newcomers

 

Cal’s most heralded recruiting class ever features consensus top-10 prospects Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb. Mined from nearby Oakland, Rabb can play either frontcourt position. Brown gives Cal an explosive and versatile player on the wing who also is effective in the paint. Roman Davis was a late signee after four-star shooting guard Tyson Jolly failed to earn admission.

 

Final Analysis

 

Winning a Pac-12 title in 2016 will be tougher than it was for the Bears six years ago, when they won their first title in a half-century. The conference wasn’t as good then.

 

Martin, whose team toured Australia in August, has the flexibility to play big or small. His goal is to coax the Bears into playing the kind of defense they’ll need to reach the top of the Pac-12.

 

The Bears have high-end talent, even if two of the headliners are freshmen. Wallace is a versatile player who could become Cal’s third NBA first-round draft choice next spring, joining potential lottery picks Brown and Rabb. Bird could be ready to blossom. Mathews has put together 30-point games in each of his first two seasons.

 

Martin believes he has unselfish players, but they must mesh offensively. “The biggest key is them understanding every night it could be somebody different,” Martin says. “That’s a good problem to have.”

Teaser:
Cal Bears 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 12:08
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/arizona-wildcats-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
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Arizona doesn’t expect to regress much, if any, from the Pac-12 championship team that went 34–4 and reached the Elite Eight for the third time in five years. Sean Miller’s roster management skills have been seriously tested with the loss of four starters, but he has seemed to flourish, adding three transfers and a four-man freshman class ranked among the nation’s best. Arizona’s most significant move was keeping 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski, a three-year starter around whom the Wildcats will build for a third consecutive league championship.

 

“You don’t ever want to use the word ‘rebuilding’ at Arizona, and that’s not the way we’re thinking,” says Miller. “I like what we’ve got, but the process of identifying a regular rotation will take a lot of work.”

 

Arizona’s identity is likely to change. It has been a defensive force for two seasons, but the loss of shutdown defensive ace Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and intense point guard T.J. McConnell suggests the Wildcats will have to put more emphasis on perimeter shooting and uptempo offense.

 

Pac-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.

 

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



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Frontcourt

 

Tarczewski has started 107 games at center and is an imposing defensive presence. He also has a nice, if under-utilized, shooting touch. His numbers are likely to improve from 9.3 points and 5.2 rebounds, as he becomes more of a featured offensive presence. Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson, who averaged 14.3 points as a junior two year ago, is the presumptive starter at power forward. He’s more of a mix-it-up inside player and rebounder. Anderson will be spelled by 7-foot sophomore Dusan Ristic, who is expected to swing between center and power forward. Ristic might be Arizona’s top pure shooter, with 3-point ability. He averaged just 8.6 minutes last year and was not used in key postseason games. His development will be significant.

 

Mark Tollefsen, a graduate transfer who averaged 14.0 points at San Francisco last season, is projected as a stretch-4 shooter who can run the court and provide reliable scoring. He is versatile enough to play both forward spots, inside and out. Freshman center Chance Comanche is a redshirt possibility.

 


No. 8 Arizona Wildcats Facts & Figures

Record: 34-4, 16-2 Pac-12

Postseason: Elite Eight

Consecutive NCAAs: 3

Pac-12 Projection: 1

Postseason Projection: Elite Eight

 


Backcourt

 

Arizona is loaded — possibly overloaded — with seven players to deploy at point guard, shooting guard and small forward.

 

Most important is the development of sophomore point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who will enter preseason practice as the starter. His confidence, shooting and playmaking are not in question, but his size could be a problem. Arizona lists him at 5'10", 160 pounds, but he’s probably closer to 5'8".

 

The backup point guard could be senior Gabe York, a combo guard who was effective as a shooter last season, averaging 9.2 points while hitting 40.0 percent from 3. He is expected to start at shooting guard, although competition is intense. Freshman Allonzo Trier, one of the nation’s most coveted recruits, is big (6'4") and physical, a combo guard whose style is to attack the rim. Junior Elliott Pitts, who has played extensively as a rotation shooting guard for two seasons, is a valuable piece.

 

Miller believes that junior Kadeem Allen, the 2014 National Junior College Player of the Year, has star power. Allen, who sat out last season as a redshirt, is likely to see time at three positions — point guard, shooting guard and wing forward — and could be the club’s top scorer.

 

Freshman combo guard Justin Simon projects as more of a defensive-oriented player than a scorer. Freshman Ray Smith, who missed most of his senior season in high school with a knee injury, is a wild card. Some recruiting analysts insist he could be Arizona’s top newcomer, a wing with shooting range to 20 feet.

 


Key Losses: F Brandon Ashley, F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, F Stanley Johnson, G T.J. McConnell

Top Players: G Parker Jackson-Cartwright, G Allonzo Trier, G Gabe York, F Ryan Anderson, C Kaleb Tarczewski

 


Newcomers

 

Combo guard Allonzo Trier has played for Sean Miller the last two summers (USA U18 in ’14 and U19 in ’15). Miller was able to land forward Mark Tollefsen, a transfer from San Francisco, in May for a final year of eligibility. He is the long-shooting presence Arizona lacked a year ago. Versatile wing guard Kadeem Allen, a redshirt, was periodically called Arizona’s “best player in practice” by UA coaches.

 

Final Analysis

 

With so many new faces, Arizona is difficult to project. But there is a wealth of talent, depth and maneuverability. With York, Tollefsen and Trier, Arizona looks to be a better shooting team than the 33–5 and 34–4 Pac-12 champions of the last two seasons. The progress of Jackson-Cartwright at the point should be the most telling variable. By January, this Arizona team could be as capable as any in Miller’s six Arizona seasons.

Teaser:
Arizona Wildcats 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 10:54
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/pac-12-basketball-2015-16-preview-predictions-and-all-conference-team
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The Pac-12’s plan for growth took another step forward last season. Utah ran neck and neck with Arizona for most of the season, giving the league two teams with potential to advance deep into the NCAA Tournament.

 

Oregon continued to be one of the best offensive teams in the country, and UCLA — perhaps due to a fortunate draw — reached the Sweet 16.

 

As Utah and Oregon have risen to prominence in recent years, expect two more Pac-12 teams to become must-watch squads. Cal scored two recruiting victories to make the Bears a conference contender. And Oregon State expects to move from being a tough out to a realistic NCAA contender behind Gary Payton II.

 

All Pac-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.

 

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



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2015-16 Pac-12 Predictions
1.No one rebuilds any better out West than Sean Miller. He has an enviable mix of size, transfers and recruits. Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
2.

Two five-star recruits paired with a trio of proven veterans could make this the year of the Golden Bears. Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16

3.

The Ducks weren’t supposed to be any good last year; people won’t make that mistake again. Postseason: NCAA Second Round

4.Steve Alford has brought stability to Westwood, and the Bruins have the talent to contend. Postseason: NCAA Second Round
5.

Four returning starters, among them 7-footer Jakob Poeltl, will keep the Utes in the upper division. Postseason: NCAA First Round

6.

The second coming of Gary Payton in Corvallis has rekindled great interest in Beavers basketball. Postseason: NCAA First Round

7.New coach Bobby Hurley will have the Sun Devils running and attacking; winning big, however, could be a few years away. Postseason: NIT 
8.

If big man Jake Scott can stay healthy, the Buffaloes easily could be three or four slots better. Postseason: NIT

 
9.

The Huskies are dealing with the great unknown with so many new faces, but possibilities persist. Postseason: NIT

 
10.

The Cardinal lost their top three scorers. There is still some talent on the Farm, but a drop-off is inevitable.

 
11.The talent level is improving at USC, but the Trojans are a year away from making a big move. 
12.

Ever been to Pullman? Ernie Kent is trying his best to convince others to join him.

 

Pac-12 Superlatives

 

Player of the Year: Gary Payton II, Oregon State

Best Defensive Player: Gary Payton II, State

Most Underrated Player: Jordan Loveridge, Utah

Newcomer of the Year: Jaylen Brown, Cal

Top Coach: Sean Miller, Arizona ()

Coach on the Hot Seat: Lorenzo Romar, Washington ()

Teams in the No. 8 Arizona, No. 13 Cal, No. 21 Oregon

 

All-Pac-12 First Team

G Gary Payton II, Oregon State

G Jaylen Brown, Cal

G Tyrone Wallace, Cal

F Ryan Anderson, Arizona

F Josh Scott, Colorado

 

All-Pac-12 Second Team

G Bryce Alford, UCLA

G Allonzo Trier, Arizona

C Jakob Poeltl, Utah

C Ivan Rabb, Cal

C Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona

 

All-Pac-12 Third Team

G Andrew Andrews, Washington

G Jabari Bird, Cal

F Elgin Cook, Oregon

F Josh Hawkins, Washington State

F Tony Parker, UCLA

 

Recruiting Roundup

 

1. Arizona: This top-five national class is led by athletic scoring wings Allonzo Trier and Ray Smith.

 

2. Washington: The Huskies reload with an eight-man recruiting class led by four-star guard Dejounte Murray and four-star big man Marquese Chriss.

 

3. California: The duo of top-10 prospects Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb is enough to give Cuonzo Martin a top-20 national class.

 

4. UCLA: Bruins bring in a couple of four-star guards in Aaron Holiday (brother of Jrue) and Prince Ali.

 

5. Oregon: Oregon’s top-25 class includes a five-star combo guard in Tyler Dorsey.

 

6. Oregon State The Beavers’ class includes coaches’ sons Stephen Thompson Jr. and Tres Tinkle.

 

7. USC:  The Trojans have only a two-man class, but Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu are four-star power forwards with upside.

 

8. Stanford: Johnny Dawkins has a trio of borderline top-100 prospects to bolster the forward positions.

 

9. Arizona State: A couple of four-star junior college prospects and the late addition of athletic big man Andre Adams comprise Bobby Hurley’s first class.

 

10. Washington State: Ernie Kent secured a five-man class led by 7-footer Conor Clifford.

 

11. Colorado Tad Boyle dipped into the junior college ranks and the overseas market for his 2015 class.

 

12. Utah: The Utes have high hopes for local standout Makol Mawien.

Teaser:
Pac-12 Basketball 2015-16 Preview, Predictions and All-Conference Team
Post date: Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 10:32
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/aac-basketball-2015-16-preview-predictions-and-all-conference-team
Body:

Just as one of the American Athletic Conference’s banner programs prepares for a comeback year, another will be relegated to playing the role of spoiler.

 

Competitive balance has been a problem through two seasons of the AAC, but the 2015–16 season has added another wrinkle. In the AAC’s second season, six league teams were in the top 100 of KenPom’s ratings. The other five were ranked outside of the top 200. In the AAC’s first season, five teams were in the top 40; the other five were outside of the top 100.

 

This season might not be very different, but the top has the added complication of one of the league’s best teams, SMU, being ineligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions.

 

That means UConn, which expects to be a top-25 team after missing the NCAA Tournament last year, might not have many NCAA-bound rivals to battle during the season. Cincinnati and Tulsa have plenty of experience and will challenge for Tournament bid, but neither rare as talented as SMU.

 

AAC 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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2015-16 American Athletic Conference Predictions
1.The Huskies lose Ryan Boatright, but transfers Sterling Gibbs and Shonn Miller will help. Daniel Hamilton could break out. Postseason: NCAA second round
2.Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy form one of the best inside-outside duos in the league. The key could be the status of scorer Keith Frazier. Postseason: None
3.Mick Cronin is back and healthy, and the Bearcats bring back all five starters from a 23-win team. No stars, but plenty of toughness. Postseason: NCAA first round
4.All five starters are back for Frank Haith — including the perimeter duo of Shaquille Harrison and James Woodard. Postseason: NIT 
5.The surprising departure of Austin Nichols hurts in the post. Transfer Ricky Tarrant and freshman Dedric Lawson will make impacts. Postseason: NIT 
6.

The Cougars could be the surprise of the league after an influx of several newcomers. Can Kelvin Sampson build chemistry?

 
7.After an NCAA snub last season, the Owls could take a step back. Quentin DeCosey and a good recruiting class will keep them competitive. 
8.Jeff Lebo’s crew will be paced by the perimeter trio of Terry Whisnant, B.J. Tyson and Caleb White.  
9.

The Green Wave had a very strong spring recruiting period, reeling in talented newcomers to join leading scorer Louis Dabney.

 
10.

Orlando Antigua has the Bulls on the upswing, but they’re still building. Keep an eye on talented Maryland transfer Roddy Peters.

 
11.There are some intriguing pieces on the roster — none more so than 7'6" incoming freshman Tacko Fall. 

AAC Superlatives

 

Player of the Year: Nic Moore, SMU

Best Defensive Player: Amida Brimah, Connecticut

Most Underrated Player: Shaquille Harrison, Tulsa

Newcomer of the Year: Sterling Gibbs, Connecticut

Top Coach: Kevin Ollie, Connecticut ()

Coach on the Hot Seat: Josh Pastner, Memphis ()

Teams in the : No. 18 UConn, No. 24 SMU

 

First-Team All-AAC

G Nic Moore, SMU

G James Woodard, Tulsa

G Sterling Gibbs, Connecticut

F Daniel Hamilton, Connecticut

F Markus Kennedy, SMU

 

Second Team All-AAC

G Ricky Tarrant, Memphis

G Louis Dabney, Tulane

G Shaquile Harrison, Tulsa

F Octavius Ellis, Cincinnati

C Amida Brimah, Connecticut

 

Third Team All-AAC

G Troy Caupain, Cincinnati

G Quenton DeCosey, Temple

F Shaq Goodwin, Memphis

F Chris Perry, South Florida

F Devonta Pollard, Houston

 

Recruiting Roundup

 

1. Memphis: Josh Pastner is counting on a seven-man class ranked No. 11 nationally to revitalize the program.

 

2. Connecticut: Five-star guard Jalen Adams and four-star power forward Steve Enoch are difference makers.

 

3. SMU: Four-star guard Shake Milton is the jewel of this top-40 class.

 

4. Temple: Guards Levan Alston and Trey Lowe should make immediate contributions.

 

5. Cincinnati: The Bearcats won a couple big recruiting battles to land standout guards Jacob Evans and Justin Jenifer.

 

6. South Florida: The Bulls have a deep five-man class led by junior college standouts Luis Montero and Shawn Smith.

 

7. UCF: The 7'6" Tacko Fall could be a difference maker for the Knights.

 

8. Houston: The Cougars have a balanced class of four quality three-star recruits.

 

9. Tulane: Plenty of reinforcements in this deep seven-man class for the Green Wave.

 

10. East Carolina: The Pirates covered their needs with a diverse four-man class.

 

11. Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane bolstered the backcourt with a couple of versatile guards.

Teaser:
AAC Basketball 2015-16 Preview, Predictions and All-Conference Team
Post date: Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/uconn-huskies-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Forget about putting on a poker face. Coach Kevin Ollie is quick to reveal his hand when talking about his 2015-16 Huskies.

 

“This group is very, very talented,” Ollie says.

 

UConn returns all but three players and adds two highly regarded graduate transfers as well as a promising freshman class. The Huskies have improved in nearly every department.

 

Given his quality depth, Ollie’s biggest challenge may be figuring out a rotation. But that’s a good problem. “I think everybody is going to understand there’s a certain way we do things at the University of Connecticut,” Ollie says. “I think competitiveness breeds success. We’re going to practice hard, and we’re going to play hard. I think that competitive spirit is going to show.”

 

AAC 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

 

UConn’s frontcourt features a little bit of everything on the skill chart.

 

Rising star Daniel Hamilton may be the most versatile player in the country. He enjoyed a superb freshman season, earning American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year honors. If he can improve his shooting percentage (38 percent last season), he’ll really take off.

 

Amida Brimah, the AAC’s Defensive Player of the Year and leading shot blocker at 3.5 per game, is poised to take the next step. Ollie expects Brimah to vastly improve on his 4.4 rebounding average and do a better job staying out of foul trouble.

 

Do-it-all forward Shonn Miller, who led Cornell in scoring and had 11 double-doubles last season before joining UConn as a graduate transfer, is a major addition. He’ll help out in just about every area.

 

Phil Nolan, the team’s most experienced player with 97 career games, specializes in doing all the little things right. He led the team in taking charges last season.

 

Athletic Kentan Facey is searching for consistency that eluded him last season. Ollie wants Facey to provide energy, increase his productivity and be a physical presence. Freshman Steven Enoch, a promising 6'10" forward, needs time to polish his rough edges.

 


No. 18 UConn Huskies Facts & Figures

Record: 20-15, 10-8 American

Postseason: NIT

Last NCAA Tournament: 2014

American Projection: 1

Postseason Projection: Second Round

 


Backcourt

 

UConn’s backcourt is stocked with playmakers. Yes, All-AAC first teamer, top scorer and inspirational leader Ryan Boatright is gone. And Terrence Samuel, a key reserve, transferred. But there’s still a wealth of talent.

 

Rodney Purvis is riding momentum from a fantastic finish that saw him average 16.7 points in his last nine games. Graduate transfer Sterling Gibbs, an All-Big East second-team selection at Seton Hall, will give the Huskies another perimeter weapon and tempo setter as well as add toughness and experience. Shooting guards Sam Cassell Jr. and Omar Calhoun are attempting to rebound from injuries. They’ll be fighting for spots in the rotation.

 

An exciting young player to watch is explosive Jalen Adams, who led Brewster Academy to a national prep championship.

 

Look for Ollie to rely heavily on a playmaker-powered attack, just as Jim Calhoun did during his Hall of Fame coaching career. “I’ve seen Coach (Calhoun) kind of formulate his team around that,” Ollie says. “That’s something I grew up watching and something I was a part of. That’s something I believe that works, and that’s how I’m going to organize my teams, too. I like facilitators on the court.” 

 


Key Loss: G Ryan Boatright

Top Players: G Sterling Gibbs, G Rodney Purvis, G/F Daniel Hamilton, F Phillip Nolan, C Amidah Brimah

 


Newcomers

 

Guard Sterling Gibbs and forward Shonn Miller, two graduate transfers, will make significant impacts. Gibbs, an All-Big East second-team pick, averaged 16.7 points and 3.8 assists last season at Seton Hall. Miller, an All-Ivy League first-team selection, led Cornell in scoring in scoring (16.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.5 rpg). Developing forward Steven Enoch will add much-needed frontcourt depth. Dynamic guard Jalen Adams, a top-25 national recruit, will be a key member of the rotation.

 

Final Analysis

 

UConn is determined to erase the sour taste still lingering from stumbling to a 20–15 record and settling for an NIT berth. “We don’t want that feeling again that we had on Selection Sunday,” Ollie says.

 

It’s highly unlikely UConn will be in that position this season given the team’s rich talent pool. Ollie addressed his biggest needs with his recruiting class, adding experience, depth and scoring punch. His roster screams versatility and athleticism.

 

Once again, UConn’s defense, which limited foes to 39.6 percent shooting from the field, should be as reliable as the sunrise. With more scoring options, the Huskies expect to be vastly improved offensively after averaging just 64.1 points last season.

 

“We want to play great defense, but we’ve got to score at the end of the day,” Ollie says. “We were holding teams under 60 (points) a lot of our games and we ended up losing 15 games.”

 

Two seasons removed from winning the 2014 national championship, UConn hopes to be a serious contender for American Athletic Conference title and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. “We just want to be the best team once March comes around,” Ollie says.

Teaser:
UConn Huskies 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/smu-mustangs-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
Body:

No team may have a bigger chip on its shoulder than SMU. A controversial snub by the NCAA Selection Committee (in 2014) and a blown goaltending call in a Round of 64 loss to UCLA (in 2015) will provide constant motivation.

 

The biggest blow, however, came at the end of September when the Mustangs received a postseason ban from the NCAA. Coach Larry Brown also will be suspended for nine games as NCAA sanctions stemming from academic fraud and unethical conduct.

 

Although Brown loses three key players who helped usher his program into national relevance, the Hall of Famer returns the bulk of his lineup ready to defend its American Athletic Conference title — because that’s the best SMU can do this season.

 

The Mustangs will not sneak up on anyone. This athletic group, bookended by AAC Player of the Year Nic Moore and powerful big man Markus Kennedy, stands poised for a deep run.

 

AAC 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

 

Replacing the production of departing seniors Yanick Moreira and Cannen Cunningham will be critical for the Mustangs to maintain their inside dominance.

 

Kennedy unselfishly volunteered for sixth man duties after returning from academic suspension. He will take on a much more prominent role, especially early, without his two frontcourt sidekicks. There’s no doubting Kennedy’s impact. He can take over games with his physical play underneath. His presence in the paint creates outside shooting opportunities.

 

That Kennedy, who averaged 11.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in ’14-15, stayed for his senior year says much about Brown’s plans for him. But that depends on Kennedy consistently performing at his highest level, keeping his grades up and his weight down. “Markus has just got to make a commitment to be the best, be mature enough to know you won’t do it by saying it, you do it by working harder than everybody else,” Brown says.

 

Forward Ben Moore, 6'8", 205, can play virtually any position. He started all but four games last season, averaging 7.1 points and 4.7 rebounds. He can exploit a mismatch, posting at least two blocks in 11 games and at least eight rebounds seven times.

 

Filling the voids of Moreira and Cunningham should be simplified with transfers Semi Ojeleye from Duke and Jordan Tolbert from Texas Tech. Ojeleye, a former top-40 national recruit, played in only 17 games as a freshman at Duke. An unknown commodity, the 6'8", 230-pounder, boasts a powerful physique and nice shooting touch. Tolbert, 6'7", 240, showed at Texas Tech that he could be a force. He ranked second in scoring (10.7 ppg) and rebounding (5.8 rpg) his junior season.

 

“We’re going to need some people like Semi and Jordan to step up,” Brown says. “I think we’re going to be pretty pleased when they play.”

 


No. 24 SMU Mustangs Facts & Figures

Record: 27-7, 15-3 American

Postseason: First Round

Consecutive NCAAs: 2

American Projection: 2

Postseason Projection: None

 


Backcourt

 

Nic Moore continues a long tradition of point guards who have thrived under Brown’s leadership in an offensive system based on ball movement. With his propensity to hit big shots, Moore has become the face of the franchise. The American’s Player of the Year should benefit from an offseason spent helping the U.S. team win gold at the World University Games.

 

Moore, who averaged 14.5 points and 5.1 assists, can do it all, but his production suffered late in the season. The academic suspension of Keith Frazier, the team’s best shooter, made Moore a marked man. Opponents keying on Moore significantly reduced the Mustangs’ 3-point production.

 

That should change with the addition of prized point guard prospects Sedrick Barefield and Shake Milton. Brown expects both of the versatile and explosive newcomers to make immediate impacts.

 

Freeing up Moore will diversify SMU’s offensive attack. So will the return of Frazier, who averaged 10.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in 17 games before his suspension. Frazier, however, shot only 33.3 percent from 3 last season after hitting just under 40 percent as a freshman.

 

With his long arms and quick feet, wing Sterling Brown is the best perimeter defender, capable of guarding each opponent’s best player and making significant contributions offensively. His improvement softens the loss of senior Ryan Manuel, who averaged 6.5 points in 28.9 minutes per game.

 


Key Losses: C Cannen Cunningham, G Ryan Manuel, C Yanick Moreira

Top Players: G Nic Moore, G Keith Frazier, F Ben Moore, F Markus Kennedy, F Semi Ojeleye

 


Newcomers

 

Sedrick Barefield and Shake Milton could diversify the offensive attack considerably while lessening the load of senior Nic Moore. Freshman Jarrey Foster missed his senior year (injury) at Houston North Shore. Transfer forwards Semi Ojeleye from Duke and Jordan Tolbert from Texas Tech are expected to make immediate impacts. Both have power and can shoot.

 

Final Analysis

 

Brown’s rebuilding job at SMU could be measured in attendance — all home games were sold out last season — and the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 22 years. Moody Coliseum has become one of the hottest tickets in one of the nation’s best sports towns, with Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and former President George W. Bush among the famous faithful.

 

Brown had the program in prime shape to make the next big jump, but it won't be measured in NCAA Tournament wins this season. This team can win the AAC on paper, but the future for the program might not be as optimistic.

Teaser:
SMU Mustangs 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Houston Texans, NFL
Path: /nfl/how-does-nfl-determine-what-team-will-be-featured-hbos-hard-knocks
Body:

How does the NFL determine what team will be featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks?

 

Over 10 seasons, eight different teams have appeared on the behind-the-scenes reality show that documents life in NFL training camp. That means 24 teams have not participated in the Sports Emmy Award-winning show narrated by Ray Donovan star Liev Schreiber. There are three exemptions for teams to avoid the NFL infomercial — having appeared on Hard Knocks in the past 10 years, having a first-year head coach or having made the playoffs in the past two seasons. The Browns, Buccaneers, Giants, Jaguars, Rams, Redskins, Texans, Titans and Vikings all qualified for mandatory inclusion this year, with Houston ultimately getting the nod. Teams are also eligible to “volunteer” for a chance to join the show.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - 11:39
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Life
Path: /nba/nba-legend-yao-ming-talks-wine
Body:

Yao Ming helped transform the NBA into a truly global league by giving it a firm link to China during his career with the Houston Rockets. Injuries forced the 7’6” eight-time All-Star to call it quits in 2011. But he has remained quite active in retirement, starting in Napa Valley. 

 

And the resulting reds have received high scores from wine critics. We caught up with Yao to discuss wine — which is both his business and pleasure.

 

[Q] How did you first develop a passion for wine?

When I was playing for the Houston Rockets, I used to go to dinner with my teammate, Dikembe Mutombo. When you live in Houston, you go to a Texas steakhouse. Deke loves to have a nice bottle of red wine with his steak, so we would share a bottle of wine and he began to teach me about it. I learned that the best Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Napa Valley, so that’s what we would often drink. Later I visited Napa Valley and loved the beauty and quiet there.

 

[Q] What’s one thing you know about wine now that you didn’t know when you got into the business?

I now understand everything that goes into making great wine. Selecting the best grapes, making the right blend of juice, aging in French oak barrels, how long you age, designing the bottle and getting it to market. I can’t just list one thing, because when I got into the business I didn’t know very much.

 

[Q] What are some of your favorite food and wine pairings?

I drink what I am in the mood for, regardless of what I am eating. I think our wine pairs well with steak, pasta and chicken, really almost anything. Except for breakfast. I don’t think we pair well with pancakes.

 

[Q] What’s the proper way to taste a glass of wine?

My winemaker Tom Hinde has taught me well. You should swirl the glass to let the wine breathe. After you swirl, hold it up to the light and enjoy the beautiful color. Our wines are a deep and rich purple. I love to look at the color. Then you should lift the glass up to your nose and enjoy the scent of the wine in the glass. Let it fill your nose. Anticipate the flavor before you taste it. Finally, sip it slow and take time to enjoy.

 

By Matt McCue

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - 11:23
All taxonomy terms: Life
Path: /life/serena-williams-best-womens-tennis-player-ever
Body:

Is Serena Williams the best women's tennis player ever?

 

 

Serena Williams is certainly in the conversation, with 36 Grand Slam titles and four Olympic gold medals. Having turned 34 years old on Sept. 26, there is still time for her to add to that incredible résumé. As for her place in history, we recently spoke with International Tennis Hall of Famer and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Billie Jean King about the short list of candidates for greatest of all-time. “I think Serena will be the best ever,” says King, a 39-time Grand Slam champion in her own right. As for the best of the rest? “Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Chris Evert,” she says. “The No. 1 from each generation.”

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - 11:11
All taxonomy terms: Monthly
Path: /monthly/why-did-nhl-change-its-overtime-rules
Body:

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.

Teaser:
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
Body:

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.

 

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



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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
Body:

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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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Texas Longhorns 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
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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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