Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/lsu-tigers-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
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The subject line of a May email to LSU students and supporters was two words: “He’s coming.”

 

Now, he’s here.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Frontcourt

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


LSU Tigers Facts & Figures

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

Postseason: NCAA first round

Consecutive NCAAs: 1

SEC projection: 4

Postseason projection: NCAA second round

 


Backcourt

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


Key Losses: F Jarell Martin, F Jordan Mickey

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

 


Newcomers

 

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

 

Final Analysis

 

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

 

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

 

Teaser:
LSU Tigers 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, October 27, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/texas-am-aggies-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
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Why not climb out on a limb if you’re already on a hot seat? That’s what Texas A&M basketball coach Billy Kennedy did. He’s guaranteed the Aggies will be in the NCAA Tournament field this season.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Frontcourt

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


No. 25 Texas A&M Aggies Facts & Figures

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

Postseason: NIT

Last NCAA Tournament: 2011

SEC projection: 3

Postseason projection: NCAA second round

 


Backcourt

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


Key Losses: G Jordan Green, F Kourtney Roberson

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

 


Newcomers

 

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

 

Final Analysis

 

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

Teaser:
Texas A&M Aggies 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, October 27, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/florida-gators-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
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Billy Donovan is gone to the NBA, and with him the face of Florida basketball. Many wonder whether the Gators’ winning tradition will follow.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Frontcourt

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


Florida Gators Facts & Figures

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

Postseason: None

Last NCAA Tournament: 2014

SEC projection: 5

Postseason projection: NCAA First Round

 


Backcourt

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


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

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

 


Newcomers

 

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

 

Final Analysis

 

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

 

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

 

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

Teaser:
Florida Gators 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, October 27, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, Overtime, Magazines
Path: /magazines/indiana-hoosiers-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
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Bend your knees. Spread your arms. Move your feet. Guard your man.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Frontcourt

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


No. 17 Indiana Hoosiers Facts & Figures

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

Postseason: NCAA first round

Consecutive NCAAs: 1

Big Ten projection: 4

Postseason projection: NCAA second round

 


Backcourt

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


Key Losses: F Hanner Mosquera-Perea

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

 


Newcomers

 

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

 

Final Analysis

 

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

 

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

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, October 22, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/michigan-state-spartans-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
Body:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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



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Frontcourt

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


No. 12 Michigan State Spartans Facts & Figures

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

Postseason: NCAA Final Four

Consecutive NCAAs: 18

Big Ten projection: 2

Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16

 


Backcourt

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


Key Losses: F Branden Dawson, G Travis Trice

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

 


Newcomers

 

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

 

Final Analysis

 

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

 

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

 

Teaser:
Michigan State Spartans 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, October 22, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/purdue-boilermakers-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
Body:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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



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Frontcourt

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


No. 16 Purdue Boilermakers Facts & Figures

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

Postseason: NCAA first round

Consecutive NCAAs: 1

Big Ten projection: 3

Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16

 


Backcourt

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


Key Losses: G Jon Octeus

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

 


Newcomers

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

 

Final Analysis

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

5.

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

6.

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

7.

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

8.

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

 
9.

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

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

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

 
12.

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

 
13.

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

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

Big Ten Superlatives

 

Player of the Year: Melo Trimble, Maryland

Best Defensive Player: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

Most Underrated: Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa

Newcomer of the Year: Diamond Stone, Maryland

Top Coach: Tom Izzo, Michigan State ()

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

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

 

All-Big Ten First Team

G Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

G Melo Trimble, Maryland

G Caris LeVert, Michigan

F Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

C A.J. Hammons, Purdue

 

All-Big Ten Second Team

G Bronson Koenig

G Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

F Jake Layman, Maryland

F Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa

C Diamond Stone, Maryland

 

All-Big Ten Third Team

G Derrick Walton, Michigan

G Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern

G Eron Harris, Michigan State

F Troy Williams, Indiana

F Caleb Swanigan, Michigan State

 

Recruiting Roundup

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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A Band-Aid version of Michigan basketball slumped to a 16–16 finish in 2014-15, snapping the program’s streak of four straight NCAA Tournament appearances. The Wolverines, having already seen every starter from the 2013 national title game declare early for the draft in 2013 and 2014, lost Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. to injury last season. A depleted roster was left learning on the fly. There were some benefits, though. John Beilein’s youth-laden team grew up a year sooner than expected. Multiple freshmen, notably Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Aubrey Dawkins and Ricky Doyle, played unexpected minutes.

 

Now, Michigan will be led by upperclassmen. LeVert spurned the NBA Draft and will be back for a senior year, joined by fellow senior Spike Albrecht and junior guards Walton and Zak Irvin.

 

A new NCAA Tournament streak is expected to begin. 

 

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Frontcourt

 

Beilein plays only one true post player in his patented perimeter-oriented offense. It will be a battle to determine who gets the nod.

 

Doyle leapfrogged Mark Donnal to earn the starting job 10 games into last season. While Beilein says the 6'10", 245-pound forward is “as good as any young man I’ve ever coached,” there’s much room for improvement — especially in defensive rebounding (1.7 per game). Doyle averaged 6.1 points on 61.2 percent shooting, playing 18.2 minutes per game. Michigan hopes improved endurance will expand those minutes.

 

The frontcourt is rounded out by Donnal, a sophomore, along with redshirt freshman D.J. Wilson. Donnal will look to fulfill his role as a stretch big man with range. Wilson, coming off a knee injury, will return to add some much-needed length and athleticism on the frontline.

 


No. 22 Michigan Wolverines Facts & Figures

Last season: 16-16 (8-10 Big Ten)

Postseason: None

Last NCAA Tournament: 2014

Big Ten projection: 6

Postseason projection: NCAA second round

 


Backcourt

 

LeVert’s return for his senior year comes with expectations of production and leadership. Beilein’s guard-heavy rotation will revolve around the 6'7" swingman who led the Wolverines in every statistical category before fracturing his foot last January. LeVert is a triple threat to shoot, drive or dish, and much of the offense will operate through him in ball-screen situations.

 

Walton is also bouncing back from injury. The junior point guard hopes to recapture the strong start he had to last season before seeing his year derailed by a toe injury. Walton played 14 games with the injury before missing the final 12. Now he has the potential to be among the best point guards in the Big Ten.

 

Irvin will slide into a more natural role playing off Walton and LeVert. The 6'6" guard struggled in an expanded role last season before finishing strong, averaging 17.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists over the final seven games. The junior will look to keep that going.

 

Minutes will be at a premium beyond Albrecht, a senior captain and reliable backup guard. Dawkins and Abdur-Rahkman are capable on both ends — Dawkins as a 3-point shooter (43.8 percent), Abdur-Rahkman as a lead guard and defender — but will fight for their roles.

 

Dawkins will compete with forward Kameron Chatman, 6'8" wing Duncan Robinson and 6'10" forward Moritz Wagner for minutes at the 4 spot — a perimeter position in Michigan’s offense. Chatman underwhelmed as a freshman, while Robinson, a transfer from Division III Williams College, is billed as an elite 3-point shooter. Wagner, a German import, is a newcomer.

 


Key Losses: F Max Bielfeldt

Top Players: G Derrick Walton, G Caris LeVert, G/F Zak Irvin, G/F Aubrey Dawkins, F Ricky Doyle

 


Newcomers

 

Moritz Wagner, a Berlin native, is the first German player in Michigan basketball history. The 18-year-old averaged 16.8 points and 5.3 rebounds for ALBA Berlin’s Euroleague junior team in 2014-15. A skilled, inside-outside forward, he chose Michigan over reported interest from Arizona, California, Connecticut, Duke and Virginia. Duncan Robinsion averaged 17.1 points at D-III Williams College two years ago.

 

Final Analysis 

 

Beilein, 62, is entering his ninth season as Michigan coach. The goal in this campaign will be to prove that last year was a mirage in his building process, not a downturn in momentum. LeVert is the catalyst, but he has plenty of assistance. “We have a lot of potential coming back, but potential is a dangerous word,” LeVert says. “Going after those goals and going after those expectations will be a challenge, but I think we’re all ready for that.”

 

After two offseasons that wiped Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. off the roster, U-M is now only replacing Max Bielfeldt, a graduate transfer who will play his final season at Indiana. While the Wolverines might not be as talented as some of Beilein’s previous top-10 teams, they’re probably the deepest team the coach has fielded.

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Bo Ryan’s 15th season at Wisconsin already figured to be an interesting one because of all the key parts he had to replace from a team that fell one victory short of winning a national title last season.

 

But the Badgers’ storyline became even juicier over the summer when Ryan announced that he’d retire following the 2015-16 season, a surprising decision that caught even athletic director Barry Alvarez off guard. Since then, Ryan has backtracked somewhat, saying he wouldn't rule out coaching in 2016-17.

 

Wisconsin has never finished below fourth place in the Big Ten under Ryan, but it won’t be easy to extend that remarkable streak. Ryan, for his part, has never been concerned with outside expectations. “This will be one of the youngest teams we’ve ever had,” he says. “But we’ll still use our same approach.”

 

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Frontcourt

 

Not only do the Badgers lose National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky, but they also have to replace fellow NBA first-round pick Sam Dekker. Throw in departed reserve Duje Dukan — who signed a contract with the Sacramento Kings after a strong performance in the NBA Summer League — and the three tallest players in UW’s rotation last season are gone.

 

Ryan will be forced to go with a smaller lineup that will have Nigel Hayes as its centerpiece. Hayes has served in a complementary role during his first two seasons with the Badgers, but now the offense will run through him. After not attempting a single 3-pointer as a freshman, Hayes worked on his perimeter game the following offseason and shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc last season. His top priority heading into his junior season is to become better off the dribble so he can be a more dangerous and versatile offensive threat.

 

The rest of the frontcourt is filled with question marks. Vitto Brown has averaged 1.4 points, 1.1 rebounds and 5.4 minutes per game through his first two seasons while struggling with confidence issues. Breakout junior seasons are a regular occurrence under Ryan — Kaminsky is the poster child for that development arc — and the staff is hoping that Brown will seize his opportunity.

 

Ethan Happ chose to redshirt last season as a true freshman because he knew his minutes would be limited. Teammates and coaches raved about Happ’s work on the scout team, and he should provide energy and rebounding at the very least. Wisconsin will need a true freshman or two to add depth. Charlie Thomas is the most physically ready, while Andy van Vliet, a 20-year-old from Belgium, is skilled with a good perimeter game but needs to add strength.

 


No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers Facts & Figures

Last season: 36-4, (16-2 Big Ten)

Postseason: NCAA runner-up

Consecutive NCAAs: 17

Big Ten projection: 5

Postseason projection: NCAA second round

 


Backcourt

 

Bronson Koenig took over as the starting point guard midway through last season when Traevon Jackson sustained a foot injury. Koenig’s decision-making is impressive — he committed only 33 turnovers in 1,152 minutes played — and he shot 40.5 percent from 3-point range. He’ll need to look to score more this season with several of Wisconsin’s top offensive weapons gone. Koenig, who’s been surrounded by veterans during his first two seasons, is now the third-oldest player on the team and knows he’ll be counted on to be more vocal on and off the court. “It’s definitely going to be a bit of a transition for me coming into that leadership role,” he says. “But I think last year kind of got me prepared for that.”

 

Even though Josh Gasser wasn’t counted on to score, he’ll be difficult to replace. The battle to fill the spot opposite Koenig features some interesting candidates. Zak Showalter is the most experienced and physically ready but needs to become a more consistent shooter. Jordan Hill, who redshirted last season, is a fiery player who expanded his offensive game while leading the scout team a year ago. Freshman Brevin Pritzl could provide much-needed scoring punch but has work to do on defense to gain Ryan’s trust.

 


Key Losses: F Sam Dekker, F Duje Dukan, G Josh Gasser, G Traevon Jackson, F/C Frank Kaminsky

Top Players: G Bronson Koenig, G Zak Showalter, G Jordan Hill, F Nigel Hayes, F Vitto Brown

 


Newcomers

 

Ethan Happ, who redshirted last season, is expected to play a major role in an inexperienced frontcourt. The Badgers may need one player from a group of Charlie Thomas, Alex Illikainen and Andy van Vliet to help provide depth. Van Vliet is 20 and arrives with experience against quality overseas competition. Brevin Pritzl’s ability to score in a variety of ways could help him get on the court early.

 

Final Analysis

 

At the heart of Wisconsin’s back-to-back Final Fours was an efficient offense that featured quality shooters at every position. This team may have to grind it out and rely more on its defense.

 

Rather than dwell on losing so much talent, Ryan chooses a glass-is-half-full approach. “I would think you have players who are extremely hungry,” he says. The Badgers had better be, because a hungry coach in his final season will be waiting for them.

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So this is the new normal for the Syracuse Orange.

 

The cloud of an NCAA investigation, and the uncertainty that came with it, has been lifted. Syracuse will be docked three scholarships per year for the next four years. Among the NCAA’s other penalties, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim will be suspended for the Orange’s first nine ACC games this season. In March, Boeheim announced that he would coach for three more seasons, at which point longtime assistant Mike Hopkins will take over.

 

After all that turmoil, things do seem fairly normal at Syracuse. 

 

The Orange will miss center Rakeem Christmas, who made a huge jump in production as senior, and power forward Chris McCullough, who bolted for the NBA despite playing just 16 games as a freshman after a tearing the ACL in his right knee. However, a strong perimeter game, led by a pair of fifth-year seniors in Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney, should have the Orange competing for an NCAA Tournament berth once again.

 

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Frontcourt

 

More than anything else, Syracuse’s success will depend on the health of DaJuan Coleman. The 6'9", 255-pound big man hasn’t played since January 2014 after suffering the second knee injury of his career. Coleman, who will be a fourth-year junior, hasn’t played an injury-free season since his senior year of high school. Now, Syracuse is looking to him as its starting center.

 

“I think it would be impossible for most of us to work out for two years every day, day in, day out with no reward,” Boeheim says of Coleman’s long road to recovery. “I’m so hopeful that that reward will come for this guy next year.”

 

Behind Coleman will be sophomore Chinonso Obokoh, who averaged just 6.8 minutes per game a year ago, and Moustapha Diagne, a 6'8" freshman who is probably more suited to the power forward position.

 

Much is expected of junior Tyler Roberson, who started 19 games after McCullough went down in January. He can be a force on the offensive boards. “I think he’s shown just glimpses of what he can do,” Boeheim says.

 

Tyler Lydon is a lanky freshman with a soft touch from the 3-point line. Big guards Gbinije and Malachi Richardson could spend time in the frontcourt at small forward.

 


Syracuse Facts & Figures

Last season: 18-13, 9-9 ACC

Postseason: None

Last NCAA Tournament: 2014

ACC Projection: Eighth

Postseason projection: First Round

 


Backcourt

 

In Gbinije, Cooney and Kaleb Joseph, Syracuse returns all three perimeter starters. Cooney can be inconsistent, but he still averaged 13.4 points per game and led the Orange in 3-pointers for the second straight season. Boeheim says he could be in for a big senior year. Gbinije split time between the point and small forward last year. He made 39.2 percent of his 3-point attempts, and his 107 assists were just 12 shy of Joseph’s total.

 

“If Rakeem Christmas wasn’t here, Michael Gbinije would’ve been the most improved player on our team,” Boeheim says. “He’s certainly among the top five most improved players in the ACC.”

 

Don’t be surprised if Boeheim gives Gbinije even more time at the point this season. That’s because Joseph struggled as a freshman. He made just 37.6 percent of his shots and dipped to 20 percent from 3-point range. His defense wasn’t great, either.

 

If Gbinije is at the point, Boeheim could give more time to Richardson, a freshman who can drill the 3 and whose height gives him the ability the play big at the top of SU’s zone or slide to the backline. Frank Howard, a 6'5" freshman, can play either guard position.

 


Key Losses: C Rakeem Christmas, F Chris McCullough

Top Players: G Kaleb Joseph, G Trevor Cooney, G/F Michael Gbinije, F Tyler Roberson, C DaJuan Coleman

 


Newcomers

 

Freshman guard Malachi Richardson could play a key role as a 3-point threat on the wing opposite veteran Trevor Cooney. Tyler Lydon, another outside shooting threat, has the ability to play either forward position. Moustapha Diagne is a natural power forward who might see time at center as well. Frank Howard, a combo guard, will provide backcourt depth as a freshman.

 

Final Analysis

 

Is any program coming off a more difficult year than Syracuse? The season started with a hearing in front of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions and ended with the release of the NCAA’s report the day before the season finale. In between, Coleman missed the entire year due to injury, and McCullough went down for the season in mid-January. On top of that, Syracuse issued a self-imposed ban on postseason play. The program’s 18 wins last year marked the fewest for the Orange since the 1981-82 team went 16–13.

 

This is a new year, and even though Syracuse will have to deal with the NCAA’s penalties over the next four years, the SU coaches and players at least know what they’re facing. Armed with that knowledge, a core of underrated veterans and the promise of a strong recruiting class, Syracuse figures to surpass the 20-win mark and return to the NCAA Tournament.

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Depending on which side of the debate you were on, Virginia was either bad for college basketball last season, or, like Wisconsin, an example of old-school cool.

 

With their deliberate style of play and stifling defense, the Cavaliers aren’t for everyone. But they make no apologies for their pace, and it’s hard to argue with the results — consecutive 30-win seasons and ACC regular-season titles, and 15 games last season in which an opponent was held under 50 points.

 

In a one-and-done era, Virginia is a throwback, with players often sticking around four and even five years. Such maturity has been a key to the program’s success, coach Tony Bennett believes.

 

If so, the Cavaliers are positioned to be a pain to play once again this year. Even with swingman Justin Anderson becoming the rare Virginia player to leave early for the NBA, the Cavaliers are as experienced a team as you’re likely to find these days.

 

So critics take heed: Virginia is not going away anytime soon, and the Cavs could be even better this year.

 

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Frontcourt

 

In the continuation of a recent trend, forward Darion Atkins was the latest Virginia big man to have a breakthrough senior season last year. With Atkins gone, it is center Mike Tobey’s turn to make the most of his last go-round. A gifted offensive player, the 6'11" senior has lacked consistency. “Mike has given us flashes,” Bennett says. “There’s nothing like knowing this is your last year.”

 

There’s nothing like having a fifth-year senior, either, and Virginia has such a player in forward Anthony Gill, a third-team All-ACC selection who stepped up his offensive production when Anderson was hurt last year. Gill has also become a hard-nosed defender. He and Tobey give the Cavaliers a major presence around the rim at both ends.

 

Potentially providing spark on the perimeter is senior Evan Nolte, who has had a hot-and-cold career but is being encouraged by teammates to let shots fly. Jack Salt, who redshirted last season, and sophomore Isaiah Wilkins are waiting their turn in the Virginia way but can provide depth.

 


No. 3 Virginia Facts & Figures

Last season: 30-4, 16-2 ACC

Postseason: Second round

Consecutive NCAAs: 2

ACC Projection: Third

Postseason projection: Elite Eight

 


 

Backcourt

 

A complete package on and off the court, senior Malcolm Brogdon passed on the NBA to finish a master’s degree in public policy and play on the U.S. Pan Am Games team in the summer. He’s one of the top returning players in the country, an All-ACC pick and second-team All-American last year.

 

“We’re looking for him to make little improvements, and be even more efficient,” Bennett says.

 

Point guard London Perrantes has played with poise beyond his years for two seasons. As Perrantes transitions to being an upperclassman, Bennett is looking for more from his junior point guard, whose shooting percentage dipped last season.       

 

“He’s got such a good feel for the game,” Bennett says. “It’s a matter of knowing what the team needs; being a little more assertive in his role and more assertive offensively if that’s required.”

 

Depth won’t be an issue. Point guard Devon Hall got his feet wet last year after a redshirt season. So did wing Marial Shayok, who was the only freshman to play in all 34 games last year.

 

Then there’s Tennessee transfer Darius Thompson, who sat out last season. The bottom line is that Virginia has no shortage of options both on and off the ball.

 


Key Losses: G Justin Anderson, F Darion Atkins

Top Players: G London Perrantes, G Malcolm Brogdon, F Evan Nolte, F Anthony Gill, C Mike Tobey

 


Newcomers

 

Not many programs redshirt these days. The latest to take a developmental year at Virginia is Jack Salt, a 6'11", 235-pound New Zealander who made big strides, Tony Bennett says. He and freshman Jarred Reuter could immediately be Virginia’s most physical players. Combo guard Darius Thompson, a transfer from Tennessee, started 10 games for the Volunteers in 2013-14.

 

Final Analysis

 

After going unbeaten until the final day of January and rising to No. 2 in the polls, Virginia was left with a bad taste last year following a Round of 32 NCAA Tournament loss to Michigan State.

 

A veteran team enters the season with a palpable sense of unfinished business and Bennett pointing to one of the five pillars of his program — Thankfulness — as a key. It relates to the wisdom gained from failure, and how it’s applied. “If we’re really thankful for what that taught us, we’ll use that to grow, get better and be as good as we can be,” Bennett says.

 

That could be very good indeed. With a firm identity and style of play, Virginia has been building toward a breakthrough season.

 

“We obviously haven’t won a national championship or been to the Final Four yet,” Bennett says. “But we’re knocking on the door. We’re improved.”

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The inroads made by Notre Dame during its ACC championship run and trip to the Elite Eight — where the Irish fell by just two points to then-undefeated Kentucky — planted seeds of production and confidence that should continue to sprout in 2015-16.

 

“The whole season was a statement,” says Irish head coach Mike Brey of the 32–6 campaign. “It was just so pure. I hope we can bottle it and keep it going.”

 

Gone are first-round draft choice Jerian Grant and second-rounder Pat Connaughton, the driving forces behind reaching the program’s highest victory total since 1908-09.

 

But budding leadership from senior big man Zach Auguste and junior guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia should sustain the winning atmosphere that permeated the program during its March run. The supporting cast appears capable of filling in the gaps.

 

“The expectations of the group coming back will be very high,” Brey says. “It’s a championship group. It’s certainly something to build on. We want to use that momentum.”

 

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Frontcourt

 

Measuring the contributions of Connaughton based upon his 12.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, as well as his 93 3-pointers, does minor justice to the value the undersized but tenacious rebounder with long-range shooting prowess provided. “My concerns are not the basketball stuff we’re losing, and we know we’ve lost a lot,” Brey says. “It’s the leadership stuff.”

 

Emerging as a go-to guy in the postseason was Auguste, the 6’10” rangy athlete who spearheaded the charge in the victory over North Carolina in the ACC Tournament finals and again in the near-upset of Kentucky when he scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds against the Wildcats’ gargantuan frontline.

 

“(Auguste) really matured and came into his own,” Brey says. “We have footage to show him from March if he gets off the rails. We have footage of him keeping it simple and being amazingly productive.”

 

Filling Connaughton’s role will be bruising 6’5” sophomore Bonzie Colson, who played winning basketball in spurts during the ACC regular season. “Bonzie Colson with more minutes — which he will get — is a natural rebounder,” Brey says. “Not that he’s going to play like Pat, but he’s very good with the ball and can shoot some threes.”

 

Role players up front in Notre Dame’s three-to-four-guard offense include senior Austin Burgett, sophomores Martinas Geben and Austin Torres and freshman Matt Ryan.

 


Notre Dame Facts & Figures

Last season: 32-6, 14-4

Postseason: Elite Eight

Consecutive NCAAs: One

ACC Projection: Fifth

Postseason projection: Second Round

 


Backcourt

 

The do-everything Grant has no replacement when it comes to the complete game he offered offensively. But the Irish have a budding star in Jackson, who has NBA-level athleticism at the point. “He’s the guy I need to talk through,” Brey says. “We’ve already started to nurture that relationship. He was a strong voice for us in the postseason.”

 

Joining Jackson in the backcourt is Vasturia, who raised his game to another level in the postseason as well. “We’re going to ball screen for Steve now because he can come off, make a drive, and make a decision,” Brey says.

 

The most likely candidate to replace Grant in the starting lineup is junior V.J. Beachem, a willowy 6’8” shooting guard who may have the best long-range stroke on the team with Connaughton’s departure.

 

Offering minutes off the bench for Jackson at the point is sophomore Matt Farrell. Another candidate to get into the mix in the backcourt is freshman Rex Pflueger, whom Brey calls “a bouncy, more athletic Vasturia.”

 


Key Losses: G Jerian Grant, F Pat Connaughton

Top Players: G Demetrius Jackson, G Steve Vasturia, G/F V.J. Beachem, F Bonzie Colson, F Zach Auguste

 


Newcomers

 

Matt Ryan, a 6’8” shooter, and Rex Pflueger, an athletic 6'6" 2-guard, could provide an instant offensive spark for the Irish. “There’s no question Ryan and Pflueger will challenge for playing time,” coach Mike Brey says. “They believe they’re ready. They’re very confident guys. They have an edge about them. They love to compete.” Elijah Burns will have trouble cracking the rotation as a freshman.

 

Final Analysis

 

The leadership and production lost with the departure of Grant and Connaughton won’t be known until the Irish get into the heat of conference play. But the coming of age of Auguste, Jackson and Vasturia during the stretch run was apparent, and having quality players/athletes to supplement the Big 3 has been addressed on the recruiting front.

 

After failing to make it as far as the Sweet 16 for 12 seasons, the Fighting Irish look to be a legitimate postseason threat for the second year in a row.

 

“This program has been built where we’ve lost really good, even great players and we’ve been able to figure it out the next year and be pretty successful,” says Brey, now entering his 16th season at Notre Dame. “The leadership and setting the tone lost with the departure of those two men is my biggest concern.”

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Few teams in the country return more production or experience than Florida State — the Seminoles’ top six scorers are back, and eight returning players have been starters at some point. But it’s what’s being added to the roster that has the Noles poised to end a three-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament.

 

A five-man recruiting class that ranks among the top 10 nationally — and arguably is the best of Leonard Hamilton’s 14-year tenure in Tallahassee — will substantially boost the team’s talent level. Perhaps even more important, it will improve the Seminoles’ depth on the perimeter, their biggest weakness last season.

 

“When you have guys playing 36-37 minutes a game, it’s only natural they will wear down, and we had a lot of our guards doing that last year,” Hamilton says. “Now we can go big. We can go small. We have the interchangeable parts to do things differently. That’s going to help us improve in all areas.”  

 

All ACC 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

 

Finding a steady presence in the post has been a big issue for the Seminoles the last two years — and it remains a glaring question. 

 

The good news: Four players who received steady minutes last season are back. Senior 7-footers Boris Bojanovsky (7'3") and Michael Ojo (7'1") have always been solid shot blockers but have struggled to score. Hamilton says both have spent more time in the gym this summer than ever before. “There’s a transition from the European style of ball to ours in America,” Hamilton says. “Those guys have grown up and worked hard. I expect them to progress.”

 

The same goes for versatile forwards Jarquez Smith and Phil Cofer, both of whom can step outside and knock down jumpers. Still, it’s improved rebounding and interior defense that the Noles need most from their big men.

 


Florida State Facts & Figures

Last season: 17-16, 8-10 ACC

Postseason: None

Last NCAA Tournament: 2012

ACC Projection: Sixth

Postseason projection: Second Round

 


Backcourt

 

The return of sophomore Xavier Rathan-Mayes gives Hamilton a potential star to build around. The slender 6'4" Canadian is best known for a mind-boggling offensive tear — scoring 30 points (including six straight 3-pointers) in the last 4:38 of a loss to Miami. But he’s capable of being a solid distributor as well.

 

“I didn’t want to leave on a season like that,” says Rathan-Mayes, who briefly considered entering the NBA Draft. “We definitely feel like we have something to prove. With the guys we have returning, and coming in, we have a chance to do something special.”

 

If prize recruit Dwayne Bacon lives up to his potential, Rathan-Mayes may be right. An athletic 6'7" wing from the famed Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, Bacon excels at attacking the basket. He has all the physical tools to be one of the nation’s top freshmen.

 

Montay Brandon and Devon Bookert are proven seniors who will continue to play major roles but will likely benefit from having more rest — both averaged around 35 minutes per game in 2014-15. Bookert, who shot just under 40 percent from 3-point range, will move between the point and the wing. Brandon led the team in rebounding last season with 5.5 per game and also averaged 11.8 points while shooting an impressive 54.1 percent from the floor.

 

Freshmen Malik Beasley and Terance Mann, both four-star prospects, are expected to earn significant playing time, along with junior college transfer Benji Bell. That trio’s size and athleticism will immediately bolster the defense. “We always take the approach that (newcomers) have to earn their rightful place, but to say that I’m impressed with their athleticism and skills would be an understatement,” Hamilton says. “They should be able to make contributions, and combined with some savvy veterans, we can be more efficient.”

 


Key Losses: F Kiel Turpin

Top Players: G Xavier Rathan-Mayes, G Devon Bookert, G Brandon Montay, G/F Dwayne Bacon, C Michael Ojo

 


Final Analysis

 

The roster has a nice blend of youth and experience, reminiscent of the well-rounded FSU teams Hamilton guided to four straight NCAA Tournaments from 2009-12. The Noles still lack an inside scoring threat, but the perimeter will be good enough to make up for it. Look for Hamilton to go with smaller lineups and play four guards at times. With a deeper and more talented rotation, the Noles are a virtual lock to improve. Just how much will hinge on a return to playing great defense — something that has been missing in recent years — and quick development of the freshmen. If that happens, Hamilton’s club won’t have much trouble securing an NCAA Tournament bid.

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Few coaches have shown an ability to adapt quite like Rick Pitino Nobody embraced the 3-point shot more quickly than Pitino. The man pressed the tempo when other coaches slowed it down. And he won.

 

Pitino’s latest adaptation? Proving he can win big with graduate transfers.

 

Concerned that four starters and two transfers were leaving, Pitino and his assistants spread the word that the Cardinals were willing to rebuild with graduate transfers, players who earned degrees at other schools but were eligible to play elsewhere for one season. Message received. Pitino landed two of the best 10 available — forward Damion Lee of Drexel and guard Trey Lewis of Cleveland State. The success of Louisville’s season will depend on the ability of Lee and Lewis to deliver in the ACC as consistently as they did at the mid-major level.

 

The season, though, will have a cloud over it after salacious accusations surfaced weeks before practice began. Will the NCAA step in? Will more details arise in the coming weeks? Either could impact a team full of unproven players in the ACC.

 

All ACC 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

 

Lee will inherit the minutes Wayne Blackshear played at small forward last season. Lee scored 30 or more five times at Drexel last season while averaging 21.4 points and 6.1 rebounds. He’s not a great shooter, but his attacking style put him at the free throw line more than seven times per game. Deng Adel, a four-star recruit from Australia, will earn minutes if he can clean up his ball handling. He’s a dynamic athlete but a bit raw.

 

Louisville’s other forward position will be more difficult to fill because Montrezl Harrell gave the Cardinals muscle and resolve as well as points and rebounds. Pitino loves the way that sophomore Jaylen Johnson improved late last season and believes he has the athleticism to develop into a force. But he’s raw and averaged less than five minutes per game last season.

 

The center position is muddled — sophomores Chinanu Onuaku, Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman as well as hometown freshman Raymond Spalding will all get looks, and it’s now or never for junior Mangok Mathiang. Look for Onuaku to win the job. After nearly leaving at the end of the season, he huddled with Pitino and dedicated himself to becoming a leader and worker. Onuaku showed he was more than merely talk. He started for the U.S. team that won the gold medal in the World University Games, contributing 12 blocked shots while averaging 4.6 points and 5.0 rebounds. Onuaku also improved his free throw stroke by adopting Rick Barry’s under-hand method.

 


No. 23 Louisville Facts & Figures

Last season: 27-9,12-6 ACC

Postseason: Elite Eight

Consecutive NCAAs: 9

ACC Projection: Fourth

Postseason projection: Second Round

 


Backcourt

 

Two double-figure scorers have also departed the backcourt — Terry Rozier, who was taken 16th overall by the Boston Celtics, and Chris Jones, who failed to finish the season with the Cards after Pitino dismissed him in February. Fourth guard Anton Gill also bolted (to Nebraska) after the season.

 

Quentin Snider benefited from Jones’ dismissal, moving into the starting lineup and scoring in double figures in five of Louisville’s final eight games. Snider is a poised and intelligent player who needs to improve his assertiveness on offense.

 

Lewis is a lock to fill the 2-guard spot. Pitino raved about his leadership early in the summer. The coach actually fell in love with his game when Lewis scored 24 of Cleveland State’s 33 points when the Cards defeated CSU last November. Lewis made 96-of-227 3-pointers last season. Nobody on Pitino’s 2015 team made more than 60 shots from distance.

 

Backcourt depth is not a strength. Freshman Donovan Mitchell will be the top reserve. He’s a powerful, mature player who loves to attack the rim, but he has not developed the ball-handling skills to play point guard. Ryan McMahon, another freshman, is an undersized shooter whom Pitino recruited on a recommendation from Dick Vitale.

 


Key Losses: G Terry Rozier, F Montrezl Harrell, G Chris Jones, G/F Wayne Blackshear

Top Players: G Quentin Snider, G Trey Lewis, F Damion Lee, F Jaylen Johnson, F/C Chinanu Onuaku

 


Newcomers

 

This is the critical area for Rick Pitino’s team. The Cardinals need Damion Lee to score the way he did at Drexel (21.4 ppg) and Trey Lewis to shoot from distance as he did at Cleveland State (42.3 percent). Donovan Mitchell enters as the most talented freshman, an acrobatic scorer who will have to improve his ball skills. Deng Adel and Raymond Spalding will need more time to fit in. Ryan McMahon is a project.

 

Final Analysis

 

This is Pitino’s most difficult team to judge because it’s risky predicting how easily guys like Lee and Lewis will transition to a new coaching system and a more athletic league in only one season. They must deliver, because no returnees averaged five points or five rebounds, and Louisville failed to score more than 60 points a dozen times last season, losing six of those games.

 

If the transfers hold their own, and Onuaku, Johnson and Snider make solid freshman-to-sophomore improvement, Louisville should finish right behind the top tier in the ACC.

 

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At this time last year, coach Jim Larranaga had a team of unknowns. He had three returning players, one of whom was injured, and nine newcomers who had never worn the Hurricanes uniform. He had little idea what to expect.

 

He does now. Almost everyone returns from a group that reached as high as No. 15 in the polls and reached the NIT final. Not only that, but the Hurricanes also added a talented transfer at forward, a position of need. A midseason slide cost Miami an NCAA Tournament berth last year, but anything less than a trip to the NCAAs this March will be a major disappointment.

 

All ACC 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

 

After shouldering a heavy load last year, Tonye Jekiri has a little help. The 7-footer from Nigeria landed on the ACC All-Defensive Team after leading the conference in rebounding (9.9 rpg) and finishing fifth with 1.4 blocks per game. He also chipped in 8.6 points while playing 30.3 minutes per game. That workload was possible because he learned how to defend without fouling. Not bad for a player entering his sixth season of basketball. He’s not in the category of Jahlil Okafor, Montrezl Harrell or Rakeem Christmas, but with those players gone, Jekiri could be on of the ACC’s best all-around big man and become an NBA Draft pick if he continues to round out his game.

 

Who will start next to him is another matter. UM has high hopes for Kamari Murphy, a 6'8", 216-pound forward who excels at defense and dunking. The high flyer sat out last year after transferring from Oklahoma State, where he averaged slightly more than six points, six boards and one block two seasons ago. Now a fourth-year junior, Murphy should be an immediate contributor on defense and in the transition game. If he proves he can score, he’ll see most of the work.

 

Senior Ivan Cruz Uceda has considerable offensive potential but was limited last year because of poor conditioning. It was especially tough for Uceda; after the Madrid native transferred from junior college, he was ineligible for 16 games and was then thrown into the fire of January conference play. Uceda brings a crafty touch inside and is unafraid to shoot from the perimeter (62 of his 99 attempts were 3s). The senior needs work defensively.

 


Miami Facts & Figures

Last season: 25-13, 10-8

Postseason: NIT runner-up

Last NCAA Tournament: 2013

ACC Projection: Seventh

Postseason projection: First Round

 


Backcourt

 

This group includes one of the ACC’s most gifted scorers, a strong point guard, a versatile defender and two sophomores with lots of offensive ability.

 

Leading scorer Sheldon McClellan, who averaged 14.5 points per game while shooting 48.4 percent from the field, could play himself into an NBA Draft spot with night-in, night-out consistency. The 6'5" senior from Houston can score in a variety of ways, though he’s best slashing to the hoop or throwing down alley-oops.

 

UM hopes McClellan’s running mate, point guard Angel Rodriguez, won’t repeat his roller-coaster season. The 5'11" senior shot down Florida and Duke early in the year but suffered a catastrophic slump that left him with a pedestrian 11.9 points-per-game average (to go with 3.9 assists and 1.8 steals).

 

At 6'6", junior Davon Reed guards four positions and is one of the league’s most efficient shooters (1.51 points per attempt, 8.2 points per game). UM will start him in a three-guard lineup.

 

The Hurricanes lost two guards to transfer but should handle those losses well. Manu Lecomte (Baylor), a strong perimeter shooter, and Deandre Burnett (Ole Miss) were in and out of the lineup. Sophomore combo guard Ja’Quan Newton and sophomore wing James Palmer are ready for larger roles. Newton, a slasher, needs to improve his outside shooting, while Larranaga wants more defense and rebounding from Palmer.

 


Key Losses: G Deandre Burnett, G Manu Lecomte

Top Players: G Angel Rodriguez, G Sheldon McClellan, G Davon Reed, F Kamari Murphy, C Tonye Jekiri

 


Newcomers

 

Kamari Murphy’s D-and-dunk game could have helped Miami last year, but he sat out after transferring from Oklahoma State. The 6'8" junior needs to improve his shot but will be an immediate contributor on defense and in transition. With a veteran-heavy rotation, the Canes can afford to take it slow with their two freshmen: 6'10" Nigerian Ebuka Izundu, who is a skinny project in the mold of Tonye Jekiri, and 6'7" wing Anthony Lawrence Jr.

 

Final Analysis

 

Miami has a chance to muscle its way into the top 25 and stay there. The Canes are on the outside of the league’s elite but should battle Notre Dame, Louisville, Florida State and NC State for next-tier supremacy. In a league this strong, that’s not a consolation prize; that means you’re headed to the NCAA Tournament. That’s where Miami should be going, given its strength in the middle and in the backcourt. Comparisons will be drawn between this team and the 2012-13 squad that surprised the bluebloods by winning the ACC title. This group doesn’t appear to be quite that strong, but it should be a fun season in Coral Gables nonetheless.

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Mark Gottfried feels good about the progress the NC State program has made under his watch. The Wolfpack have been to the NCAA Tournament four years in a row and twice have reached the Sweet 16, including last year’s run highlighted by an upset of Villanova, a No. 1 seed.

 

And Gottfried feels good about his team’s potential this season. “I like where we can get to,” he says.

 

But Gottfried would have felt better about his team’s chances — in both the ACC race and the postseason — if guard Trevor Lacey had returned for his senior season. Lacey, the team’s top scorer (15.7 ppg) and emotional leader, caught Gottfried by surprise when he opted to turn pro. There’s still talent in place to contend without Lacey; it will just be a learning process.

 

“Trevor was such a big part of what we did last year,” Gottfried says. “We’ve got to figure out how to win without him.”

 

All ACC 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

 

NC State got to the NCAA Tournament on the strength of its guard play last season. Then in the biggest win of the season — a 71–68 upset of Villanova in the Round of 32 — forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman both delivered double-doubles. The Wolfpack are counting on more from their forwards this season, especially Abu, who averaged 6.4 points per game as a freshman. With strong hands and a soft touch, Abu has the potential to double his scoring average with a little more consistency. He’ll have plenty of minutes. Kyle Washington transferred to Cincinnati, leaving only three scholarship forwards on the roster.

 

Freeman, the team’s top rebounder, was instrumental in the Wolfpack’s late-season run. Gottfried has compared him to Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson for all the little things he does to help the team win. But a leg injury will keep the junior off the court until mid-September at the earliest. It might take him the first month of the season to catch up physically.

 

Junior BeeJay Anya led the ACC in blocked shots (87 in only 19.4 minutes per game), but he has struggled with his weight. With only three options at forward, Gottfried says that the Wolfpack need Anya to get down to about 280 pounds (he’s listed at 295) to be effective this season. If Anya can get in better shape, he also could be more of a factor on offense. NC State’s best regular-season wins (vs. Duke, at UNC, at Louisville) coincided with Anya’s best games.

 


NC State Facts & Figures

Last season: 22-14, 10-8 ACC

Postseason: Sweet 16

Consecutive NCAAs: Four

ACC Projection: Ninth

Postseason projection: First Four

 


Backcourt

 

NC State has had a clear go-to player in each of the past two seasons in Lacey and T.J. Warren, the ACC Player of the Year in 2014, and Gottfried expects junior point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber to follow in their footsteps. “Our team starts with him,” Gottfried says of Barber, who averaged 12.1 points and 3.7 assists per game last season. “I think that Cat is in a position to have an unbelievable year.”

 

Barber really came on in the last three months of the season, improving his 3-point shooting and his decision making. Without Lacey, Barber’s role will expand, but he will have plenty of help on the perimeter from junior guard Terry Henderson, sophomore twins Caleb and Cody Martin and freshmen Maverick Rowan and Shaun Kirk.

 

Henderson, who’s from Raleigh, sat out last season after transferring from West Virginia. He averaged 11.7 points and made 37.6 percent of his 3-pointers for the Mountaineers as a sophomore in 2013-14.

 

Rowan, who reclassified and committed in August, should help offset the loss of top 3-point shooter Ralston Turner. The Martins and Kirk give Gottfried some flexibility to go “small,” with a four-guard lineup, and really get after teams defensively.

 

Gottfried says he could potentially use Cody Martin at every position, including as Barber’s primary backup at point guard. “He might be the most unique guy in the country,” Gottfried says.

 


Key Losses: G Travor Lacey, G Ralston Turner, F Kyle Washington

Top Players: G Cat Barber, G Terry Henderson, F Lennard Freeman, F Abdul-Malik Abu, F BeeJay Anya

 


Newcomers

 

Terry Henderson, a transfer from West Virginia, will step into the starting lineup and be counted on to supply 3-point shooting. He will probably also have to help at backup point guard. Shaun Kirk was ticketed for a low-major program before his stock took off at an AAU event in Indianapolis in April. Maverick Rowan, a skilled swingman, was a late addition after reclassifying to the 2015 class.

 

Final Analysis

 

With Lacey, NC State would have been one of the favorites to win the ACC regular-season title for the first time since 1989. Without him, the Wolfpack still have an experienced group with potential stars in Barber and Abu. But there are only eight scholarship players on the roster, so the Wolfpack will have to stay healthy.

 

NC State isn’t likely to contend in the ACC, but it should be back in the NCAA Tournament for a fifth straight year under Gottfried.

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The formula never changes. John Calipari loses most of his roster to the NBA. He does not flinch for a second. He merely collects another top-three recruiting class, plugs in extremely capable and eager replacements, and the University of Kentucky becomes a wise bet for the Final Four.

 

Five fresh starters will crackle into the Wildcats’ lineup this season after UK lost seven players to the NBA (six drafted, four in the first round). That followed a 38–1 season that ended with a jarring 71–64 loss to Wisconsin in the Final Four.

 

Don’t expect 40–0 talk this winter, but this team looks just as capable of doing what the 2010 (Elite Eight) and 2011 (Final Four) teams achieved.

 

UK has more than its usual number of veterans (five), the best freshman center prospect in the nation (Skal Labissiere), the breakout Canadian star of the Pan Am Games (Jamal Murray) and a fearless guard with New York City DNA (Isaiah Briscoe).

 

Calipari has done more with less, but this team will not have the overpowering inside strength and depth of the 2014-15 squad.

 

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Frontcourt

 

Labissiere, a native of Haiti, will remind more people of Anthony Davis (best case) or Nerlens Noel (worst case) than Karl-Anthony Towns. He’s an elite athlete and a creative scorer, but not the low-post beast that Towns became, in part because he’s only 215 pounds. Labissiere told one interviewer that he tries to model his game after Davis, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony. Labissiere brings question marks, however, has he has not yet been cleared to play by the NCAA.

 

The time is now for Kentucky’s three returning frontcourt players. They have all been spectators while teammates starred and moved into the NBA. Alex Poythress, in his fourth season, missed most of last year with a torn knee ligament. Poythress showed flashes of pro potential as a freshman and sophomore and has the physique to play with anybody. He’ll make a jump when he becomes more aggressive and plays through contact.

 

Opposing coaches have watched Marcus Lee dominate in short stretches and wondered why he didn’t play more. Lee can block shots with anybody, but his offensive game disappears away from the rim. He must prove he can score on more than dunks and rebounds.

 

Derek Willis is the true mystery man. Calipari has compared his physical skills to former NBA All-Star Bobby Jones, but in two seasons Willis has made 10 field goals while playing 114 minutes. Willis has shown the ability to make 3-point shots. He’s one of only four guys 6'8" or taller, so Calipari will need him to rebound.

 


No. 1 Kentucky Facts & Figures

Last season: 38-1, 18-0 SEC

Postseason: Final Four

Consecutive NCAAs: 2

SEC Projection: First

Postseason projection: National champion

 


Backcourt

 

Kentucky’s backcourt could be improved and tempt Calipari to employ a three-guard set. Some argued that Kentucky was a more fluid and dynamic team when Tyler Ulis played point guard last winter. This season the team belongs to Ulis. He’s a relentless on-the-ball defender who transforms turnovers into layups and dunks. Few defenders can stay in front of him. He also makes shots — 81 percent from the foul line and 43 percent from the 3-point line. His only negative is his size at 5'9".

 

Calipari could easily play two or three point guards. Murray was Canada’s best player in the Pan-American Games, scoring 22 points to lead the Canadians past the U.S. before they lost to Brazil in the gold medal game.

 

Briscoe, another freshman, arrives from Newark with the New York City toughness in his game. He’s a conditioning freak who enjoys boxing, cycling and yoga.

 

Calipari filled out his recruiting class with shooters Mychal Mulder, who excelled at Vincennes (Ind.) University, and Charles Matthews of Chicago.

 

Don’t overlook junior Dominique Hawkins, who has been used to increase the defensive pressure and change the tempo the last two seasons.

 

Newcomers

 

Skal Labissiere, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe should follow the John Calipari-Kentucky tradition of moving to the NBA after one college season. Labissiere is a motivated kid who survived the 2010 Haitian earthquake and is determined to provide a better life for his family. Murray was UK’s final commitment but plays like a guy who could average 15 per game. Briscoe is a dynamic athlete. Charles Matthews and Mychal Mulder must earn their minutes by making 3s.

 


Key Losses: G Devin Booker, C Willie Cauley-Stein, G Aaron Harrison, G Andrew Harrison, C Dakari Johnson, F Trey Lyles, F Karl-Anthony Towns

Top Players: G Tyler Ulis, G Isaiah Briscoe, G Jamal Murray, F Alex Poythress, F Skal Labissiere

 


Final Analysis

 

After last season, anything was going to be a retreat for the Wildcats, who were overpowering around the rim, intimidating on defense and unbeaten in the SEC.

 

The primary question for this team: How formidable will the low-post game be in half-court sets?

 

Calipari has already said he will junk the platoon system he used last winter. That means he’ll pick his top eight guys and let his stars average more than 30 minutes.

 

Expect this team to play faster than the 38–1 team and push the tempo because of the playmaking skills of Ulis, Murray and Briscoe.

 

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When Steve Spurrier retired abruptly from college football coaching this week, the South Carolina coach was the subject of dozens of complimentary columns and retrospectives. Indeed, there has never been another like Spurrier, the all-time wins leader at Florida and South Carolina who redefined the SEC with his offensive brilliance.

 

At the same time, he was outspoken and — some would say — arrogant, needling rivals along the way. Even in 1995, even some Florida stalwarts were skeptical.

 

By the end of the 1994, he had won three SEC titles and reached four bowl games. The 1995 season would be his best at Florida despite humiliation in the Fiesta Bowl against national champion Nebraska. The 1996 season would bring Florida’s national title and a Heisman winner.

 

In this 1995 Athlon Sports feature, reporter Buddy Martin describes Spurrier’s ascent and why the coach continued to lock horns with rivals.

 

***

 

Trash Steve Spurrier if you must. Call him arrogant or insensitive or petulant. But give him credit for perhaps the quickest and most profound rehabilitation of a program in the history of intercollegiate athletics.

 

Rodney Dangerfield doesn’t live in Gainesville, Fla., anymore. Gator bashers better go looking for new booty because they don’t have Florida football to kick around anymore.

 

The greatest player in Florida history has now become the greatest football coach in Florida history: 49 wins, 12 losses and one tie (.798), three Southeastern Conference titles and four bowl games. And there is no letup in sight.

 

If you have that kind of success so quickly and defeat your opponents by such large margins as Spurrier, it doesn’t take long until they want to make you out to be Darth Vader.

 

How unlikely of a role for Florida’s football coach, once deemed the All-American boy, to become The Villain in some quarters. Suddenly, they want to start keeping score on some minor indiscretions when what they should be keeping score on is the meteoric ascent of Gator football under Spurrier.

 

Bedraggled and beaten down by so many lashes from the NCAA’s whip, Florida’s football program has come off probation with a vengeance since Spurrier took over in 1990. It is true, however, that Spurrier’s abrasive style alienates some of his own people on hi sway to the penthouse.

 

Though usually compliant and cooperative with the media, he has been known to call sports writers at home and challenge their facts or points of view. He carries on feuds with two columnists at major newspapers in Florida.

 

Yet Spurrier also is honest to a fault. Sometimes he says more than he should. Usually he can be counted on for at least a couple of juicy headlines a season. Sensitive alumni might call him mouthy. The press prefers to think of him as candidate.

 

For the most part, Gator fans are happy with Spurrier’s return. It’s his enemies, namely opposing coaches and hostile media, who like to take potshots at him. Just try to get somebody to say something critical about him for the record. Not many will do that.

 

The father of a starter on the 1994 Gator team told me: “You can’t say bad things about Steve Spurrier. He’s too big in the state. And he wins.” Behind Spurrier’s back, however, even some of his own faithful will rip him — off the record.

 

He slams his golf visor to the ground too much.

 

He’s always running his mouth.

 

He always blames somebody else when he loses.

 

He doesn’t sign enough autographs.

 

He’d better win, he’s so arrogant.

 

He keeps his quarterbacks on a short leash.

 

His players don’t like him.

 

He just cain’t beat them Bowden boys.

 

And so it goes – the bashing of Steve Spurrier, who, paradoxically, is one of the hottest coaching properties in all of football, college or pro.

 

As for those few disgruntled Florida fans: That only proves the critics right who say they don’t know prosperity when they see it.

 

For 50 years Gator fans have been trying to find a coach who could win an SEC title that the school would be allowed to keep. Along comes Spurrier and wins three in five years. They ought to build a statue of him on top of the Century Tower instead of harping at him for his volatile sideline demeanor.

 

“I wonder how the fans of Tennessee or Georgia or one of those SEC schools would feel if their school — somebody besides Alabama and Florida — played in the championship game,” Spurrier mused in an interview last spring. Good point. Since they started playing the SEC title game three years ago, only the Tide and the Gator have made it there. Florida has won two. Spoiled Gator fans now wonder what’s taking him so long to win a national championship. After all, Miami and Florida State have their trophies on the mantle already.

 

Bellyachers forget the fact that in five short years, Spurrier took a college football program out of the City Dump and put it on the front counter of Tiffany’s. On April 28, Florida’s ex-wonder boy turned 50. Friends hope age will mellow him some. Diehard Gator fans hope he will develop an even nastier side to his personality. His enemies hope he’ll retire.

 

To know Spurrier well is to now of his fierce competitive spirit at anything he does. And that his playful sense of humor is to poke fun at both friends and foes alike. Where he gets in trouble is when he mixes the high-spirited competition with the humor.

 

Example: At several Gator Club meetings in 1994, Spurrier suggested FSU was an acronym for “Free Shoes University.” That was after several Florida State football players had been charged with taking $6,000 shopping sprees at a Foot Locker store, courtesy of an unscrupulous agent.

 

Yet, Spurrier expresses respect for Florida State. Interestingly enough, during his press conference on the day he was hired, Dec. 31, 1989, Spurrier called Bobby Bowden “probably the best coach in college football today.”

 

And while he was not directly implicating Bowden with his remarks about “Free Shoes University,” he was certainly casting aspersions on Bowden’s Florida State program.

 

Trying to keep a sense of humor about to Bowden chortled, “The shoes may have been free, but we’ve paid dearly for everything else.”

 

There really was no grand plan for Spurrier to become a coach of any kind, let alone Florida’s savior. After almost a decade of knocking around the San Francisco 49ers as a reserve quarterback and punter, and eventually winding up as the starter for the ill-fated Tampa Bay Bucs in their inaugural season, Spurrier returned home to Gainesville to ponder his future in the late ‘70s.

 

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Spurrier says. “Maybe get into some kind of public relations job, play some golf.”

 

At that point, coaching was not paramount to him. Then one day he decided to start attending Florida games, sitting in the stands for the first time in his life. That’s where the idea first occurred to Spurrier that he might coach. Shortly thereafter, he was hired as then-coach Doug Dickey’s assistant to instruct the quarterbacks. From there, Spurrier went to Georgia Tech to work for his old coach, Pepper Rogers, and then on to Duke as Red Wilson’s offensive coordinator.

 

A few years later, Spurrier, at 37, would become the youngest head coach in college football as he took over the Tampa Bay Bandits of the United States Football League.

 

All the while, the fate of Gator football was riding a roller coaster in the 80s, from championships to NCAA probation. Spurrier told friends he didn’t think he’d ever be the head coach for the Gators because “I don’t think the job will ever be open while I’m coaching.” That’s what he told me one January night in 1985 in Mobile, Ala., The USFL had just lost its court battle with the National Football League, and Spurrier’s career was very much in doubt.

 

“I think Galen Hall will do a good job for them, and he’ll be there for a long time,” Spurrier said.

 

After losing his opener to Ole Miss, Hall’s ’89 team won four straight and it appeared as Spurrier had said, that Galen was solidified in that job. Two days later, hall resigned, and the hunt was on for the next Florida coach. All eyes turned to Durham, N.C., where Spurrier’s Blue Devils were about to win the Atlantic Coast Conference and go to their first bowl in two decades.

 

Unbelievably, however, there was an undercurrent of resistance about Spurrier, not least of which came from athletic director Bill Arnsparger, although he later denied it. Spurrier became the overwhelming choice.

 

As the 1994 season unfolded, I observed Spurrier up close on a regular weekly basis and was surprised to discover the intense pressure he faced on a daily basis. In today’s world of conflict between coach and athlete, Spurrier’s willingness to make swift and decisive measures in meting out punishment is down right admirable and refreshing.

 

I asked Spurrier about all that pressure. He told a story about a friend of his, a former player at Georgia now coaching at a small college, who was feeling overwhelmed.

 

Spurrier: “If you think you’ve got pressure at small school, what do you think it’s like for me at Florida?”

 

Friend: “The big difference is that when you go to the bank an deposit your check every week, the pressure is alleviated quite a bit.”

 

Spurrier makes in excess of $700,000 a year. The price of everything has gone up.

 

***

 

Auburn-Florida week in 1994: Perhaps the biggest game ever to be played at Florida Field. Both teams undefeated and nationally ranked, the Gators at No.1  and the Tigers at No. 6 in the Associated press poll. A heated rivalry. And Spurrier against Terry Bowden, son of Bobby, that hated Bowden clan.

 

A big weekend in the life of all gators, but none more than terry Dean, who was two weeks from his 23rd birthday and himself in position to reap more glory than he ever deemed possible in his football life.

 

Dean was now the starting quarterback on the nation’s No. 1 team, and with 18 touchdowns in five games, he was on track to perhaps being recognized as the greatest football player in the land. If he was feeling good about himself, little wonder.

 

Instead of strutting with confidence, however, Terry Dean was beginning to feel the heat more than ever now. Despite his torrid, seven-touchdown first half in the opener against New Mexico State and near-flawless game against Kentucky and first half against Tennessee, he was starting to leak oil: The interceptions mounted against Ole Miss and LSU as Florida continued unbeaten.

 

After Dean’s poor outing against LSU, Spurrier knew he had to change his coaching strategy. Thus, he would revert to a hardball role with Dean. It was not a language Dean would be able to translate into results on the field. Yet expectations of Terry Dean were never higher. Expectations of Florida football were never higher. The stress impacted everybody.

 

What was a coach to do? His team was ranked No. 1in the country, his 1uarterback was leading the Heisman race, and yet there was a problem with the offense, which he could only correct through Dean, either by eliminating interceptions or benching him.

 

On Monday morning after the LSU game, as Dean stepped off the elevator into the athletic office, Spurrier summoned his fifth-year senior quarterback to his office where he would deliver the bad news.

 

Dean knew the conversation was going to be serious when Spurrier closed the door. Dean says he got the worst chewing out of his career. “My knees were shaking,” he said. On the following Saturday, Dean went out and threw four interceptions to Auburn by early in the third period, was benched and never played another significant down at Florida.

 

Spurrier sees nothing wrong with benching a player, but many would call that more of a “burial” than a benching.

 

“Look, I’m not going to criticize Terry Dean,” Spurrier said. “I’ve said all along I did a lousy job of coaching him. If Terry goes on to have a great career in the BNFL, then I guess he’ll prove I was wrong. He said I was putting too much pressure on him, and I certainly don’t want to do that to any player. So I made a change.”

 

That’s now exactly how Dean said it, but clearly, in the press conference following the 36-33 loss to Auburn when Dean revealed he received two mandates from his coach that week to play better or face demotion, that was considered an act of treason. Dean played twice more in mop-up roles.

 

In the national press, Spurrier took the heat. In a season when a national championship was being talked about, winning your third SEC title seems a bit of a compromise to some. Spurrier says he understands that fans’ expectations of Florida football have been raised considerably.

 

Fact is, Spurrier only might have been two plays from his chance for a national championship trophy: 1) when Floidia failed to stop Auburn on fourth and 10 in the final minutes of the game, and 2) any one of a dozen plays to stop Florida state in the fourth period after taking a 31-3 lead with 13 minutes left to play in what Seminole fans called “The Choke at Doak.”

 

The best scenario: Florida beats Auburn, remains ranked No. 1, beats the Seminoles and doesn’t have to face them again, playing a team like Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. As it was, the season ended ignominiously with a 23-17 loss against the Gators’ bitterest rival. Florida State found a way to pressure quarterback Danny Wuerffel and put a crimp in Florida’s offense.

 

Spurrier’s nemesis, Bobby Bowden, thinks the Gator coach will improve with time. “I think you are more impatient when you’re young,” Bowden says, without mentioning Spurrier’s name. I know I certainly was. And I’m a lot more tolerant now than I was 10 years ago.”

 

However, Bowden is remembering less and less what it’s like to lose to Florida because the Seminoles have dominated the series the last nine years.

 

“We haven’t actually dominated,” says Bowden. “We‘ve won, but it’s been darn close in most cases. You get back to the bowls, and people ask us why we’ve won them: Probably because we’ve got better players than the people we’re playing. I’m not saying we’ve got better players than them (Florida), we’ve just got a few more better players. But that thing will roll the other way.”

 

Spurrier’s long-term future at Florida appears to be what he wants to make it. Despite rumors that he had conversations with the Carolina Panthers of the NFL, Spurrier says he has no intentions of leaving his alma mater. With a contract through the year 20000, it would appear that only if and when he’s ready to leave will the Spurrier era end.

 

That may not happen until he can finally delver on that greatest moment ever for Gator fans, a national championship. First, though, Spurrier’s got to beat Bowden and win the state title.

Teaser:
Athlon Archive: Steve Spurrier is not Darth Vader
Post date: Thursday, October 15, 2015 - 07:45
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/duke-blue-devils-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
Body:

By riding a group of star freshmen to the school’s fifth national title, Duke finally seems to have found a winning formula in the age of one-and-dones. With another crop of highly touted newcomers coming in to play alongside a group of solid-but-unspectacular veterans, the question becomes whether Duke can sustain it.

 

This time, the challenge might be steeper. While the Blue Devils’ recruiting class comes with the usual amount of accolades, it doesn’t appear to have the same kind of NBA-ready talent as the last one. And the foundation of established players isn’t quite as substantial as it was a year ago.

 

And much like last year, the window of time this Duke team has in which to figure itself out is a small one.

 

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Frontcourt

 

The heart of senior big men Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee has never been in doubt. If the situation called for someone to dive on a loose ball, get fiery in a huddle or follow a big play with a vein-bulging scream, they have always been eager to rise to the occasion. But the ability to be consistently effective ACC big men is something neither has yet demonstrated.

 

Jefferson’s exit from the starting lineup, clearing out the power forward spot for the smaller but more versatile Justise Winslow, was a major factor in last season’s title run. Meanwhile, despite having the same imposing body of his older brothers, Plumlee has yet to start a game at Duke.

 

That means freshman Chase Jeter will get as many minutes as he can handle. A spirited rebounder who’s comfortable with his back to the basket, Jeter will be Duke’s best option down low. After sitting out last season, transfer Sean Obi should figure into the equation as well.

 


No. 2 Duke Facts & Figures

Last season: 35-4, 15-3 ACC

Postseason: National champion

Consecutive NCAAs: 20

ACC Projection: First

Postseason projection: National runner-up

 


Backcourt

 

When Las Vegas point guard Derryck Thornton decided to reclassify and enroll at Duke a year early, the entire Blue Devils program likely breathed a sigh of relief. With the graduation of Quinn Cook and the early exit of NBA first-round pick and Final Four hero Tyus Jones, the Blue Devils simply had no other option at point guard. It’ll help that Thornton will have a daunting array of perimeter threats at his disposal.

 

As a freshman, whenever Grayson Allen had an opportunity to get on the floor he always seemed to make the most of it. That came in handy when his timely shooting and aggressive edge ignited a Duke charge in the title game that lifted the Devils past Wisconsin. Thanks to that performance, Allen will enter this season as the face of the program. A solid shooter with a fearless style and freakish athleticism, he will likely play that role well.

 

Opposing teams will have trouble figuring out how to deal with freshman wings Luke Kennard and Brandon Ingram. Kennard was a high-volume scorer in high school and will stretch defenses with his silky lefty jumper. Ingram, a four-time state champ in high school, is a wiry 6'8" small forward who has shown the ability to knock down outside shots. Ingram will likely need to get stronger in order to reach his immense potential. But his rare mix of size and perimeter savvy will make him hard to keep off of the floor.

 

Of course, all of these wing players will have to contend with junior Matt Jones for playing time. With his defense and hustle, Jones clawed his way into the starting lineup and became an indispensable part of the Blue Devils’ title run.

 


Key Losses: G Quinn Cook, G Tyus Jones, C Jahlil Okafor, F Justise Winslow

Top Players: G Derryck Thornton, G Grayson Allen, G Matt Jones, G/F Brandon Ingram, F/C Chase Jeter

 


Newcomers

 

Duke’s recruiting class isn’t merely good; it also fills areas of desperate need. Chase Jeter will be the Blue Devils’ most polished post player. Brandon Ingram, whose mix of length and athleticism will be trouble for opposing wings, likely will start. Luke Kennard will fit nicely into the guard rotation, while Derryck Thornton will be Duke’s only true point guard

 

Final Analysis

 

When Winslow, Tyus Jones and star center Jahlil Okafor bolted for the NBA after Duke’s NCAA Tournament triumph, the conventional wisdom was that Duke was headed toward a rebuilding year. There would simply be too many mismatched parts and too many unanswered questions for the Blue Devils to stay among the elite.

 

But when Ingram gave the Blue Devils’ recruiting class some star power by choosing Duke over North Carolina and Thornton’s reclassification solved the point guard problem, those doubts began to disappear. While they’re thin at spots — in the post and at point guard — the Blue Devils should have impact players everywhere. If they can create the uncommon chemistry of last year’s bunch, the Blue Devils’ ceiling should again be high.

 

Where before there were reasons why Duke wouldn’t contend in a loaded ACC, now it’s fair to ask: Why not Duke?

Teaser:
Duke Blue Devils 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, October 15, 2015 - 07:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/north-carolina-tar-heels-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Roy Williams likes to say that he would rather coach a talented team than an experienced team if forced to choose between the two. What he likes best, though, is coaching experienced talent. That winning combination produced NCAA championships for Williams in 2005 and 2009, and Williams enters this season with another North Carolina team that features an abundance of both qualities.

 

The Tar Heels have been in a drought according to their own lofty standards, not having reached a Final Four since 2009. Recently, their program has faced uncertainty and criticism in the aftermath of academic misconduct involving past UNC athletes. This season has a chance to be a return to glory of sorts.

 

UNC’s rotation includes six upperclassmen, headlined by senior guard Marcus Paige, and Williams welcomes back nine of his 10 players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game in 2014-15. UNC returns 88 percent of its points, 84 percent of its rebounds and 75 percent of its assists from last season.

 

The following article and more can be found in the Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview magazine, .

 

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Frontcourt

 

As has been the case in recent seasons, the Tar Heels feature imposing depth inside. Brice Johnson is one of the nation’s best interior scorers with his long and lanky frame, and he and Kennedy Meeks are active on the offensive glass. Meeks improved as a defender last season after slimming down, but he and Johnson have room for more growth on that end of the court after being exploited by quick guards and big men alike. They also have been prone to silly fouls, especially illegal screens by Johnson, and it remains to be seen whether another year of maturity will help alleviate that problem.

 

Isaiah Hicks gives the Heels a capable third big man who would start on many other teams. Hicks has a slender build but excellent athleticism that helps him score points in flurries. Joel James is a bruiser who provides a mean streak that UNC’s other post players lack, and he showed surprisingly soft touch on his short jumper a year ago.

 


No. 3 North Carolina Facts & Figures

Last season: 26-12, 11-7 ACC

Postseason: Sweet 16

Consecutive NCAAs: Five

ACC Projection: Second

Postseason projection: Final Four

 


Backcourt

 

Paige returns as the team’s undisputed leader and most indispensable player. The sweet-shooting lefty fell short of preseason All-America expectations in 2014-15 as he battled a hip injury and plantar fasciitis, but he is back after offseason ankle surgery. Paige has the highest free throw percentage in UNC history, and he is just nine 3-pointers shy of breaking the school record in that category.

 

A key to UNC’s season is how much help Paige gets on the perimeter. Justin Jackson emerged late last season as a versatile scorer who can hit 3-pointers in addition to making his trademark floaters from mid range. He will share the wing with classmate Theo Pinson, whose defense and athleticism are needed after the early departure of J.P. Tokoto. Also in the mix is freshman Kenny Williams, a shooter who gives the Tar Heels another needed threat behind the 3-point arc.

 

Joel Berry II and Nate Britt return at point guard, where each will see minutes spelling Paige and playing alongside him when he shifts off the ball. Berry has breakout potential as a scorer and distributor, and Britt is a heady player who made strides last season with his shooting.

 


Key Loss: G J.P. Tokoto

Top Players: G Marcus Paige, G Joel Berry II, G/F Justin Jackson, F Brice Johnson, F Kennedy Meeks

 


Newcomers

 

Kenny Williams is the headline addition in North Carolina’s two-player recruiting class. A 6'3" guard who originally signed with VCU, Williams has a chance to contribute immediately because his biggest strength (perimeter shooting) has been one of UNC’s biggest weaknesses in recent years. Luke Maye, whose father played quarterback at North Carolina in the mid-1980s, is a good passer who could develop into a floor-stretching forward in the future.

 

Final Analysis

 

The good news for the Tar Heels is that their best players are experienced, a rarity for top programs today. The bad news is that those players have so much experience because they weren’t good enough to leave school early as NBA Lottery picks. The question then becomes just how valuable UNC’s experience will be. The Tar Heels have not been elite defensively since the 2011-12 season, the year before the current seniors arrived on campus, and last season featured some particularly porous efforts. UNC was shredded by offensive juggernauts Duke, Notre Dame and Wisconsin in its final three losses. It’s probably unreasonable to expect shutdown defense from a group that has been merely decent in that area lately, but some improvement is possible. If the Tar Heels defend a bit better, get a healthy season from Paige and see continued development from the sophomore trio of Jackson, Pinson and Berry, they have legitimate potential to win the ACC and contend for the national title.

Teaser:
North Carolina Tar Heels 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/maryland-terrapins-2015-16-basketball-team-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Maryland endured plenty of change entering last season: A massive roster overhaul coupled with entry into the Big Ten after more than six decades in the ACC. The Terrapins’ results changed, too. They won 28 games, finished a surprising second in a new league and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years.

 

With point guard Melo Trimble and wing Jake Layman remaining at Maryland, transfer Robert Carter Jr. eligible and touted freshman Diamond Stone in the fold, coach Mark Turgeon will field his most talented and versatile team since arriving in College Park.

 

“If we’re playing a smaller team, we can go small,” Turgeon says. “If we’re playing a bigger team, we can take advantage of matchups and go big. We have a lot of good pieces. We can go in a lot of different directions.”

 

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Frontcourt

 

Maryland was forced to frequently play small last season. That won’t be necessary this winter. The 6'9" Carter, who averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 rebounds at Georgia Tech in 2013-14, dropped 18 pounds while in putting his transfer year to good use.

 

“We expect Robert to make a huge impact,” Turgeon says. “He has the complete game. He’s a low-post player who can shoot mid-range shots. He can shoot 3-pointers. He’s become a much better ball handler, and we’ve worked hard defensively with him.”

 

The Terps also return junior Damonte Dodd and sophomore Michal Cekovsky. Dodd, Maryland’s top rim protector last season, is up to 252 pounds. Meanwhile, the once-wiry Cekovsky is less likely to be pushed around after adding 25 pounds of muscle.

 

Stone’s addition was significant for Turgeon, who lured the Milwaukee native out of traditional Big Ten territory. But as hyped as Stone is, Maryland doesn’t need him to dominate as a freshman (though it wouldn’t complain if he did). “There’s a lot of pressure on Diamond because he’s so highly ranked,” Turgeon says. “We’re going to be able to take that off him because we have so many good players.”

 


No. 4 Maryland Facts & Figures

Last season: 28-7, 14-4 Big Ten

Postseason: Second round

Consecutive NCAAs: 1

Big Ten Projection: First

Postseason projection: Final Four

 


Backcourt

 

Trimble was an instant difference maker as a freshman, leading the Terps in scoring, assists, steals and 3-pointers made and demonstrating a knack for getting to the line. He quickly established his value and can grow it further with improvement at the defensive end.

 

“That’ll be a challenge, for him to do that,” Turgeon says. “His assists will go up. He’s got even more good players around him. I think offensively, he’ll still be Melo. He’ll make the plays, get to the foul line. I think he’ll become a more complete player than he was as a freshman.”

 

Jared Nickens and Dion Wiley mostly played reserve roles last season but could develop larger profiles as sophomores. Nickens’ shooting helped open the offense at times, while Turgeon says Wiley has matured and improved since the conclusion of his first season.

 

Then there’s Rasheed Sulaimon, who was dismissed from Duke’s program in January and watched his old teammates win a national championship. His second chance comes with the Blue Devils’ old ACC rival, where he will be immediately eligible as a graduate student, have one year of eligibility and help fill the void created by Dez Wells’ graduation.

 

“Even though he’s new, he’s doing a great job here in the summer developing relationships,” Turgeon says. “He has experience. He’s played at a high level. Defensively, Rasheed is a very good on-ball defender. Dez was a big-time defender. Rasheed gives us that to go with his offense.”

 

The Terps’ bolstered frontcourt gives the athletic Layman the chance to slide back to his natural wing position. The senior showed steady improvement throughout his first three seasons and already has surpassed the 1,000-point plateau for his career.

 


Key Losses: G Richaud Pack, F Evan Smotrycz, G/F Dez Wells

Top Players: G Melo Trimble, G Rasheed Sulaimon, F Jake Layman, F Robert Carter Jr., C Diamond Stone

 


Newcomers

 

The Terrapins scored a recruiting coup on late March when center Diamond Stone, a McDonald’s All-American, committed to the program. But the coveted big man isn’t Maryland’s only significant addition. Junior college transfer Jaylen Brantley could slide in as Melo Trimble’s backup at the point, and former Duke wing Rasheed Sulaimon will try to script a better ending to his career than his unceremonious departure from Durham last winter.

 

Final Analysis

 

Maryland will begin the year as a top-10 team. The last time it started a season there, it won the 2002 national title.

 

These Terps aren’t prohibitive favorites nationally, and they don’t possess the same postseason experience as the 2002 champions did. But they nonetheless are creating considerable excitement about building on a breakout season.

 

“We have good pieces and good players,” Turgeon says. “The personalities fit. I think the pieces fit. Every indication in how they’re working in the spring and summer is showing me they want to be a great team. We’re on the right track right now.”

Teaser:
Maryland Terrapins 2015-16 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, October 13, 2015 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers, NFL, Monthly
Path: /favre
Body:

The man who contemplated retirement on an annual basis — and actually went through with it a few times, only to change his mind and come back for more — has found peace and happiness now that he’s finally embraced it.

 

And not even the roar of 67,000 adoring fans welcoming him to home to Lambeau Field in July for his induction into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, or slinging passes to his old teammates during a charity flag-football game the next day, will change his mind.

 

“I don’t believe I’ll be making a comeback,” Brett Favre said with a laugh after throwing two touchdown passes and an interception to his fellow “has beens” (his words). “My feet are killing me.”

 

Favre, 45, played 20 NFL seasons, including 16 with the Packers and two with the rival Minnesota Vikings, a move that infuriated many of his fans at the time but is now all but forgotten by most. We caught up with the legendary QB to ask him about his record-breaking career and life after the game with wife Deanna, daughters Breleigh and Brittany and grandsons Parker and A.J. 

 

What’s your life like nowadays?

I would say fairly normal. One of the things Reggie White told me after he retired was, (doing his best imitation of White’s deep baritone) “I’m telling you, the one thing you’re going to miss is NOT football.” And I thought, “He’s crazy.” And I haven’t missed football. I’ve missed [coach] Mike [Holmgren] chewing my butt, rooming with [best friend] Frank [Winters], bus rides. And that’s what I miss. I don’t miss 3rd-and-15 in the Metrodome and we haven’t won a game there in eight years. I don’t miss that. I miss the camaraderie with the guys. I miss the things that Reggie told me I would miss and he’s right. It’s less about the game and more about the people.

 

You have two grandsons. You once said that if you had a son, you wouldn’t let him play football. Do you still feel that way?

I still kind of feel that way. Now, my two grandsons, one’s five, one’s a year, and what they’ll do, I don’t know. Brittany’s husband is a soccer guy — he’s actually from England — so they may play soccer, they may play football, I don’t know. But there is this, I don’t know what you’d call it — anxiety, knowing what football can do. Now, in saying that, I had a wonderful career. Did I get my share of hits and bumps and bruises? Of course. What are the long-term effects? Time will tell. I don’t know. I don’t think the cumulative of playing 20 years of football, plus in college, that’s 24, plus high school, has a positive effect on you. I would be nervous, for obvious reasons. It’s a violent game.

 

You were fearless as a player, but it doesn’t sound like you’re that way with the boys.

[My brothers] and I, we were into everything. If Mom and Dad turned their backs, were we out in the street, we were doing who knows what. And how they got through that, I have no idea. Because now as a parent and as a grandpa, every little move and every little detail, I want to be watching and observing and making sure they don’t get hurt or whatever. I would have never thought that I would be that way. But I’m totally the opposite of what I thought I’d be. I do have anxiety. You’d think I’d be, “Hey, throw ‘em out there. Let ‘em go. They’ve got to be kids.” I understand that, but you also know [the dangers].

 

How does it feel to have reconnected with the Packers and their fans after how ugly things got in the summer of 2008?

I feel much better now because things are in a much better place and I — like most people, probably — questioned if we would ever get to that point. And not only have we gotten to that point, but we’ve gotten there times 100. I remember leaving the stadium and going home [before being traded to the New York Jets in August 2008], and it was like leaving family, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see them, or if we’ll ever be as close as we have been. I remember thinking as I left, just me, just thinking in the car, “How did it ever get to this? I cannot believe we’re at this point, after 16 great years, wonderful years.”

 

How then did it feel to have 67,000 fans cheering you upon your return to Lambeau Field?

The emotions were far greater than what I thought they were going to be. And that’s a tribute to the fans. It really is. Amazing. I feel like I’m back home. I can’t stress to you how overwhelming it was, not only for me but for my family. What a great feeling.

 

If the Falcons hadn’t traded you to Green Bay, do you think you would’ve had the career you did?

Let me say this: I’m glad we don’t have to find out. Had I stayed in Atlanta, I don’t see much upside there. I felt stuck. [Falcons coach] Jerry [Glanville] didn’t like me. I had gotten lost in the shuffle. No one really, I walked past players and no one even knew who I was. And I just don’t know if time would have allowed for that to happen. And then you fall through the cracks — it happens all the time. But the great thing about Atlanta is it got me to Green Bay. And the rest is history. It was a perfect fit. It just all fell into place. I think I related to the fans there more than I would have anywhere else. It could not have happened any better.

 

Is it tougher for young professional athletes today than when you played?

There’s no doubt today it is tougher. You can criticize your coaches on Twitter, your teammates on Facebook, and things like that and it’s instantaneous. The old-timey coaches are like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” We’re all human. We all make mistakes. But as athletes, celebrities, it’s more visible. You live and learn. I’m thankful that I survived the early stages of my career. I haven’t had a drink since ’98, and I’m very thankful for that. I survived drug addiction and seizures and so forth. God was looking out for me, even though I was not looking out for myself. And a lot of the things that I’ve done, I obviously regret, but it’s about moving on and becoming a better person. I have a long ways to go, never will be perfect, but I do strive to be that person.

 

How do you view your career?

I had dreams and aspirations. All I thought about was playing pro football and pro baseball as a kid. Now, probably most kids think that way. But I’m one of those that can say, ‘My dreams came true.’ But then, also, say they were surpassed. When things went bad [in Green Bay] … it was unfortunate. It hurt me, it hurt the Packers fans, it hurt the Packer organization emotionally. But I knew what I had done spoke for itself. And it’s kind of like looking in a mirror and liking what you see. We all have flaws, we’ve all made bad decisions, we’ve all made mistakes that we later regret, but just the body of work. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. But I played as hard as I could, I did everything I possibly could. I committed myself to the team, the organization and the fans, and more than anything, if there was anything that bothered me, it was that I didn’t do more. But I do know that I did all I could.

 

by Jason Wilde

 

Teaser:
Brett Favre retired from the NFL, but he's still a busy man
Post date: Sunday, September 20, 2015 - 01:01
All taxonomy terms: Magazines
Path: /magazines/athlon-sports-2015-16-preseason-womens-college-basketball-top-25
Body:

Once again, Connecticut is an easy choice to take the women’s basketball national title. The Huskies will be aiming for their 11th championship, which would tie the fabled UCLA men’s program for the most all time.

 

There will be some talented teams pursuing the Huskies, but the crew from Storrs is an overwhelming favorite.

 

1. Connecticut (38-1)

The Huskies lost All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, but the program is so strong that it should only be a bump in the road. It starts with senior forward Breanna Stewart, who was the consensus 2015 National Player of the Year. UConn will also rely on returning double-digit scorers Moriah Jefferson, Morgan Tuck and Kia Nurse. Katie Lou Samuelson, the nation’s top-rated recruit according to the All Star Girls Report, could step into Mosqueda-Lewis’ spot.

 

2. Notre Dame (36-3)

Coach Muffet McGraw will have to replace standout Jewell Loyd, but the Fighting Irish have successfully replaced All-Americans before. Four proven starters are back, and a tremendous recruiting class will join the program. Sophomore Brianna Turner may be Notre Dame’s next All-American, and she will be joined in the starting lineup by Lindsay Allen, Taya Reimer and Michaela Mabrey. Arike Ogunbowale leads a freshman class that includes three top-20 recruits.

 

3. Tennessee (30-6)

Mercedes Russell and Diamond DeShields were two of the best freshmen in the country in 2013-14, and they both sat out last year. Now, Russell (who underwent surgery on both feet) and DeShields (who transferred from North Carolina) will be playing together for the Lady Vols. Add in returnees Bashaara Graves and Jasmine Jones, plus two outstanding recruits, and Tennessee could be the top team in the SEC.

 

4. South Carolina (34-3)

Tiffany Mitchell returns as the Gamecocks’ unquestioned leader, but the spotlight at USC may fall on sophomore A’ja Wilson and junior Alaina Coates. Those two delivered impressive numbers last year while coming off the bench. Can they move to another level as starters in 2015-16?

 

5. Ohio State (24-11)

The Buckeyes should top the Big Ten under third-year head coach Kevin McGuff. Ohio State will be powered by sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell, who netted 24.9 points per game as a freshman. Backcourt partner Ameryst Alston will provide senior leadership, while forwards Shayla Cooper and Alexa Hart are also returning starters.

 

6. Mississippi State (27-7)

A very young Bulldogs team set the school record for wins last year, so expectations are soaring in Starkville. MSU’s nucleus will feature four returning starters: juniors Breanna Richardson and Dominique Dillingham, plus sophomores Victoria Vivians and Morgan William. Teaira McCowan, a 6'7" freshman center, should also make an impact this winter.

 

7. Baylor (33-4)

The talented tandem of junior forward Nina Davis and senior point guard Niya Johnson will make the Bears a serious Final Four contender. Juniors Imani Wright, Khadijiah Cave and Alexis Prince are proven veterans. The contributions of newcomers Alexis Jones (a Duke transfer) and freshman post players Kalani Brown and Beatrice Mompremier could be critical.

 

8. Louisville (27-7)

The Cardinals lost three starters, so they will be looking for help from one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. Louisville, which has reached the Final Four two times over the last seven years, will be paced by the team’s top two scorers from 2014-15, sophomore forwards Mariya Moore and Myisha Hines-Allen. Asia Durr, who was listed as the No. 2 prospect in the country by the All Star Girls Report, leads an outstanding five-player recruiting class.

 

9. Texas A&M (23-10)

The Aggies should have strong senior leadership and an equally strong bench this year. Courtney Williams and Courtney Walker return after they both tallied over 14 points per game in 2014-15, and point guard Jordan Jones should be back after suffering a knee injury during the season.

 

10. Texas (24-11)

Heading into her fourth season in Austin, coach Karen Aston has done a tremendous job rebuilding the Longhorns. Eight players who saw significant minutes last year return, with 6'5" junior Kelsey Lang and 6'7" senior Imani McGee-Stafford forming an impressive baseline tandem. The development of freshman shooting guard Lashann Higgs could prove to be a key for Texas.

 

11. Oklahoma (21-12)

The Sooners used a balanced attack to cross the 20-win plateau last year, and they have four starters returning. A productive perimeter group features juniors Peyton Little and Gioya Carter, along with sophomore Gabbi Ortiz. Senior forward Kaylon Williams will need some help on the baseline.

 

12. Northwestern (23-9)

After reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 18 years, the experienced Wildcats should have their sights set even higher in 2015-16. Four starters return for coach Joe McKeown, and all four scored in double figures last year. That quartet includes seniors Maggie Lyon and Lauren Douglas, plus juniors Nia Coffey and Ashley Deary.

 

13. Duke (23-11)

Elizabeth Williams is gone, but Azurá Stevens appears to be the heir apparent to Williams’ All-American legacy. Stevens, a 6'6" sophomore wing, contributed 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game as a freshman. Rebecca Greenwell is another sophomore who is a proven scorer, and the Blue Devils will also rely on Amber Henson, Oderah Chidom and an outstanding recruiting class that features four top-50 prospects.

 

14. Arizona State (29-6)  The Sun Devils were the surprise team of 2014-15, and they have a strong cast returning. Senior sharpshooter Katie Hempen is the top scoring threat, and junior Sophie Brunner is productive in the paint. Senior Elisha Davis will be back running the point, with junior Quinn Dornstauder returning in the post.

 

15. Florida State (32-5)

The Seminoles enjoyed a great run last year, and four the of the team’s five double-digit scorers will be back in Tallahassee. Senior center Adut Bulgak will lead the way after she averaged 12.3 points and 9.5 rebounds in 2014-15. Bulgak should get plenty of help from junior center Leticia Romero, junior forward Ivey Slaughter and sophomore forward Shakayla Thomas.

 

16. Maryland (34-3)

The Terrapins have reached the past two Final Fours, but the graduation of Laurin Mincy and the late transfer of Lexie Brown created major voids. Senior Malina Howard and juniors Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones will form a solid foundation, but highly regarded freshmen Brianna Fraser and Kiah Gillespie will have to adapt to the college game quickly.

 

17. Stanford (26-10)

The Cardinal will rely on 3-point shooting and a strong junior class that features guard Lili Thompson, who led a balanced attack with 13.3 points per game last year. Thompson will be supported by classmates Erica McCall, Briana Roberson and Karlie Samuelson, and sophomore Kaylee Johnson is another proven performer.

 

18. Oregon State (27-5)

The Beavers are coming off their best season in school history, and expectations should be even higher in Corvallis for 2015-16. Four starters return, including three who piled up impressive numbers last year. Jamie Weisner (13.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Ruth Hamblin (12.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and Sydney Wiese (12.7 ppg, 5.6 apg) will give Oregon State an outstanding core.

 

19. Kentucky (24-10)

The Wildcats were inconsistent last year, but a veteran backcourt should keep UK on target this winter. Senior point guard Janee Thompson will work with juniors Makayla Epps and Linnae Harper on the perimeter. Highly regarded newcomers Evelyn Akhator (the No. 1 junior college recruit in the nation) and freshman Batouly Camara will be counted on for immediate help.

 

20. North Carolina (26-9)

The Tar Heels have talent, but these are tumultuous times in Chapel Hill. After Diamond DeShields transferred following a tremendous 2013-14 freshman campaign, leading scorer Allisha Gray opted to transfer this summer. Stephanie Mavunga and Xylina McDaniel will give UNC two talented forwards, but freshmen Stephanie Watts and Destinee Walker will have to step up immediately in the backcourt.

 

21. George Washington (29-4)

The Colonials will have plenty of depth and plenty of size. The impressive George Washington frontline will be led by senior Jonquel Jones, who averaged a double-double in 2014-15. The 6'4" Jones will be joined on the baseline by 6'5" sophomore Kelli Prange and 6'2" junior Caira Washington. Junior Hannah Schaible will be the Colonials’ top perimeter threat.

 

22. Chattanooga (29-4)

The gaudy 2014-15 win total included victories over Tennessee and Stanford, and a strong nucleus returns for veteran coach Jim Foster. Junior forward Jasmine Joyner led the Mocs in scoring and rebounding last year, and senior point guard Alicia Payne is back to run the show. Junior Chelsey Shumpert and sophomore Keiana Gilbert are also reliable contributors.

 

23. South Florida (27-8)

All five starters return for the Bulls, including a pair of supremely talented seniors. Courtney Williams delivered 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game last year, while Alisia Jenkins posted 12.8 points, 11. 3 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots.

 

24. Syracuse (22-10)

The Orange are another program with five returning starters. The backcourt combo of Alexis Peterson and Brianna Butler will lead the way after they combined for just under 30 points per game last year. The key performer may be center Briana Day, who contributed 9.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per contest as a sophomore.

 

25. Princeton (31-1)

The Tigers ripped off 31 straight wins before they fell to Maryland in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Princeton lost the player on top of its scoring column, but the next six players on that list return. Most important, the Tigers will have five proven seniors — guards Michelle Miller and Amanda Berntsen, plus forwards Alex Wheatley, Annie Tarakchian and Taylor Williams.

Teaser:
Athlon Sports' 2015-16 Preseason Women's College Basketball Top 25
Post date: Monday, September 14, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/nfl-2015-regular-and-postseason-predictions
Body:

The defending world champion New England Patriots open defense of their title on Thursday night to kick off the 2015 regular season. While football fans everyone are overjoyed that the attention on the nation's most popular sport will finally shift back to what happens on the field, the ultimate goal for all 32 teams remains the same — get to Super Bowl 50.

 

The Patriots are the champs looking to pull of another repeat, while the Seahawks would like to make some history of their own by becoming just the third team to play in three straight Super Bowls. The Buffalo Bills were the last to do so back in the early 1990s. Can Seattle be the next? Not likely, according to the panel of Athlon editors who have made their predictions for how the upcoming season and postseason will play out.

 

There does seem to be mutual agreement when it comes to the top and bottom of each division, as all five editors have the same champion for six of the eight and the same cellar dweller for all but one (NFC South). The only disagreement when it comes to first-place teams is in the AFC North and NFC East. After that, opinions vary, but in the end this panel seems to believe that Green Bay will wind up on top of the football world when all is said and done.


In addition to the predicted standings for every conference, Athlon’s editors also make their Wild Card (WC) picks as well as the respective conference championship game (CG) matchups and their best guess as to which teams will face off at Levi's Stadium on Feb. 7, 2016 with the Lombardi Trophy on the line.    
 

AFC

AFC East
 Rob Doster
Braden Gall
John Gworek

Steven Lassan

Mark Ross
1
2
3
4
AFC North
1
2
3
4
AFC South
1
2
3
4
AFC West
1
2
3
4
AFC Playoffs
WC
WC
CGPatriots over
Colts

Colts over

Ravens

Colts over
Broncos
Patriots over
Colts

Broncos over

Patriots

NFC

NFC East
 Rob Doster
Braden Gall
John Gworek
Steven Lassan
Mark Ross
1
2
3
4
NFC North
1
2
3
4
NFC South
1
2
3
4
NFC West
1
2
3
4
NFC Playoffs
WC
WC
CGSeahawks over
Saints
Packers over
Seahawks
Packers over
Seahawks
Packers over
Seahawks
Seahawks over
Cowboys

 

Super Bowl 50

 Rob Doster
Braden Gall
John Gworek

Steven Lassan

Mark Ross

 
       over

    over

    over

        over

       over

 

Teaser:
NFL 2015 Regular and Postseason Predictions
Post date: Thursday, September 10, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/challenge-athlon-sports-experts-week-1-pick-em
Body:

College football is back, and the competition off the field is nearly as heated as the competition on game day.

 

The gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.

 

Think you’re up for taking on our experts every week? Think you can beat the writers and editors each week? and compete for tons of cool prizes.

 

Here are this week’s top picks from Athlon Sports senior writer David Fox:

 

Thursday’s Games

 

North Carolina vs. South Carolina (Charlotte)

Both teams need to re-boot their defenses under new coordinators. South Carolina has the stiffer test in the opener against Marquise Williams.

Fox’s Prediction: North Carolina 28­–21

 

WKU at Vanderbilt

Western Kentucky put up points on just about everyone last season. Derek Mason’s life won’t get any easier if his first game at DC is a showcase for WKU QB Brandon Doughty.

Fox’s Prediction: WKU 35–21

 

Michigan at Utah

Jim Harbaugh may have won the offseason, but he’s going to need solid offensive line play to win his debut at Michigan. That’s been in short supply.

Fox’s Prediction: Utah 24–21

 

TCU at Minnesota

Trevone Boykin’s Heisman bid gets an early test in a rematch against the standout Minnesota secondary.

Fox’s Prediction: TCU 28–14

 

Friday’s Games

 

Baylor at SMU

A neat game for head coaches who worked their way from Texas high schools to being offensive masterminds. Unfortunately, it won’t be close.

Fox’s Prediction: Baylor 56–14

 

Washington at Boise State

Washington’s defense is rebuilding. So is Boise State’s backfield. I’ll throw my lot in with the Broncos.

Fox’s Prediction: Boise State 35–28

 

Saturday’s Games

 

Stanford at Northwestern

Stanford will have a lopsided advantage in the trenches and has the more experienced quarterback. The Wildcats could go 0-for-the-Bay Area the last two openers.

Fox’s Prediction: Stanford 28–21

 

BYU at Nebraska

Nebraska’s 29-game season-opener winning streak might end if we see the same Taysom Hill we saw at the start of last season.

Fox’s Prediction: BYU 28–24

 

Louisville vs. Auburn (Atlanta)

Jeremy Johnson might be the most hyped first-year starting quarterback in a preseason since Tim Tebow. Facing Louisville in an opener is an interesting test.

Fox’s Prediction: Auburn 28–21

 

Penn State at Temple

Christian Hackenberg and P.J. Walker combined for six interceptions in this game last year. This game has to be better, right?

Fox’s Prediction: Penn State 24–14

 

Virginia at UCLA

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen’s first start comes against a team rebuilding the pass rush.

Fox’s Prediction: UCLA 35–21

 

Bowling Green vs. Tennessee (Nashville)

Can Tennessee live up to the hype? The Volunteers might have to play through some nerves as they start the season.

Fox’s Prediction: Tennessee 35–17

 

Arizona State vs. Texas A&M (Houston)

This game could set up as a shootout. Arizona State will be the team that can make the critical stop or force the crucial turnover.

Fox’s Prediction: Arizona State 35–28

 

New Mexico State at Florida

Treon Harris is a surprise starting quarterback for new Gators coach Jim McElwain. Can he hang onto the job?

Fox’s Prediction: Florida 49–14

 

Texas at Notre Dame

Expect some nasty defense in this one. Notre Dame has the experience on defense and a functional offense, making this an easy pick for the Irish.

Fox’s Prediction: Notre Dame 24–10

 

Wisconsin vs. Alabama (Arlington)

Wisconsin’s normally stout offensive line is a question this year. Alabama will have a major edge.

Fox’s Prediction: Alabama 31–14

 

Texas State at Florida State

FSU won’t have much trouble, but Everett Golson’s progress will be worth watching.

Fox’s Prediction: Florida State 41–10

 

Mississippi State at Southern Miss

Mississippi State will go as far as Dak Prescott can take the Bulldogs.

Fox’s Prediction: Mississippi State 28–10

 

Colorado at Hawaii

This is actually an interesting late-night game. Well-traveled USC transfer Max Wittek might give the Warriors a chance, and those late games at Hawaii are always tricky.

Fox’s Prediction: Colorado 28–21

 

Monday’s Game

 

Ohio State at Virginia Tech

The Buckeyes will be better prepared for anything Bud Foster throws at them this time around.

Fox’s Prediction: Ohio State 28–14

 

Teaser:
Challenge Athlon Sports Experts in the Week 1 Pick 'em
Post date: Thursday, September 3, 2015 - 12:45

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