Kansas students who ate lunch on campus at The Underground received a pleasant surprise on Thursday afternoon.

They didn't have to pay for their meal.

Kansas coach Bill Self and a handful of other Jayhawks coaches showed up at the popular campus food court around 12 p.m. CST and started buying everyone's food. Self also shook hands and posed for pictures with dozens of students before returning to his preparation for Monday's season-opening exhibition game.

Word of Self's presence spread quickly among Kansas students. By the time Self left, he and the other Kansas coaches spent about $1,500, according to The University Daily Kansan.

Econ test are a hell of a lot better if Bill Self buys you lunch after. #DayMade

— Megan (@megantiger16) October 30, 2014

How I know our coach is better than yours: @CoachBillSelf just bought everyone's lunch in the Underground. #Badass #BillSelfForPresident

— Matt Pello (@Pello6) October 30, 2014

Thanks for lunch Bill Self, it's much appreciated!

— Shyann Stepp (@shy_2012) October 30, 2014

As the students said, that's a great gesture by Self and the other Kansas coaches. A man who has won 10 straight Big 12 titles doesn't need to resort to buying lunches to ingraciate himself to the student body, but Self is generous enough to do it anyway.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 30, 2014, 8:22 pm

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

Since he had already proven at last year's Midnight Madness event that he can leap 6-foot-10 forward Curtis Washington and dunk, Georgia State's Isaiah Dennis opted to increase the degree of difficulty this year. The sophomore guard generously listed at 6 feet not only leapt over Washington but also two of his other Panthers teammates. Where does Dennis get his athleticism? Probably from his parents. His dad played football in college and his mom ran track. Georgia State has several well-known guard, from elite mid-major star R.J. Hunter, to Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow, to Louisville transfer Kevin Ware. Dennis may not be the most well-known member of his backcourt, but with that leaping ability, he's probably worth keeping an eye on too.

(Thanks, College Basketball Talk)

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'
Bill Self recreates Andrew Wiggins' infamous draft day outfit
Clemson student sinks $25,000 half-court shot
Costume-clad Tubby Smith crashes motorcycle
Drake's appearance at Kentucky includes cringe-worthy air ball
Mercer's Ike Nwamu leaps over teammate, throws down big dunk
New Mexico coach shaves his head for a good cause
Memphis guard throws down off-the-glass, between-the-legs slam
Fresno State guard sinks five straight half-court shots
Xavier coach Chris Mack performs Beastie Boys classic
Xavier freshman's juggling two-ball dunk
Michigan State's Tom Izzo dresses as a member of 'KISS'
• Megabooster Boone Pickens suits up for Oklahoma State

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 30, 2014, 12:07 am

With only shot-blocking center Chris Obekpa returning from last season's frontcourt rotation, St. John's is counting on incoming players to help make up for the departure of forwards JaKarr Sampson and Orlando Sanchez.

That strategy took a hit Wednesday, however, when the Johnnies learned they won't have the services of one of those newcomers.

Highly touted forward Keith Thomas has been ruled academically ineligible to play for St. John’s this season because of issues stemming from a grade-forging scandal at his former junior college. The Westchester County Journal News reported last week that a Westchester Community College assistant coach was fired last week amid allegations of signature forgery and transcript fraud. The NJCAA is investigating and two Florida A&M signees from the school reportedly already had their scholarships yanked. 

"Academic integrity is treated very seriously at St. John's University and we are committed to maintaining high academic standards for all of our student-athletes," St. John's athletic director Chris Monasch said. "Our athletic compliance office recently became aware of information that triggered an additional review of Thomas' academic credentials at Westchester Community College. Our assessment and decision are in accordance with University and NCAA policies."

The loss of Thomas robs St. John's of a formidable rebounder who earned junior college All-American honors last season by averaging more than 15 boards per game. That would have been a massive addition for the Johnnies since Sampson and Sanchez were their two best rebounders last season.

Now St. John's probably has two options for the starting spot alongside Obekpa in the frontcourt. It could either plug in 6-foot-7 redshirt sophomore Christian Jones or go ultra-small with three guards and 6-foot-5 Sir'Dominic Pointer at the big forward spot.

Neither option is ideal, which is why the loss of Thomas stings so much. In a year when St. John's has a wealth of perimeter talent and a shot-blocking center in the middle, the Johnnies will miss a tough interior threat like Thomas who could have cleaned up the glass and scored around the rim.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 29, 2014, 7:46 pm

Yahoo Sports will break down the top 10 leagues for the upcoming college basketball season working backward from No. 10 to No. 1. Here's a look at our No. 5 league, the Southeastern Conference.

Moments after all three teams from the SEC advanced to the NCAA tournament's second weekend last season, Mississippi State coach Rick Ray gloated with a tweet dripping in sarcasm.

"7-0 in NCAA tournament and 3 out of 3 teams make it into the Sweet 16," he wrote. "Yep, SEC Conference is a bad and weak league."

Sending three teams to the Sweet 16, two to the Final Four and one to the national title game was an impressive accomplishment, but the notion that the SEC as a whole was underrated last season is flimsy at best. The SEC finished seventh in conference RPI, landed only three teams in KenPom's top 50 and suffered more head-scratching November and December losses than any other prominent league did. 

Tennessee's unexpected NCAA tournament success aside, last season reflected a disturbing trend for the SEC. While Kentucky has reached the Final Four three times since 2010 and Florida has advanced to the Elite Eight or beyond each of the past four seasons, the SEC has only averaged 3.6 NCAA bids the past five seasons because the rest of the conference isn't pulling its own weight. 

For the SEC's fortunes to change this season, the league desperately needs other teams to achieve national prominence. Ultra-talented Kentucky begins the season as the favorite to win the national title and Florida is a preseason top 10 team despite having to replace four starters, but there's little consensus regarding who the SEC's third best team is.

One possibility is Arkansas, which may be primed to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008 thanks to a roster that blends experience, talent and depth. Six-foot-11 NBA prospect Bobby Portis and high-flying wing Michael Qualls highlight a group of seven rotation players returning from last year's NIT team. The Razorbacks will also benefit from the arrival of junior college transfer Jabril Durham and skilled freshman Anton Beard, both point guards who will address the team's greatest position of need and enable Ky Madden to play more off ball.

Another candidate is LSU, which boasts maybe the league's best frontcourt besides Kentucky despite the departure of All-SEC Johnny O'Bryant. Standout forwards Jarrell Martin and Jordan Mickey both are candidates to earn all-conference honors this season and coach Johnny Jones can go big by pairing them with promising 7-foot-1 freshman Elbert Robinson or small by putting them with 6-foot-5 sophomore Brian Bridgewater. The key for LSU will be whether high-scoring junior college transfer Josh Gray and freshman Jalyn Patterson can solidify a backcourt that lost starters Andre Stringer and Anthony Hickey.

Also worth paying attention to is Georgia, which finished a surprising third in the SEC last season but did so against maybe the league's easiest schedule. Nonetheless the core of that team returns including standout guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines, both of whom averaged just over 13 points per game last season. The Bulldogs return 6-foot-8 Nemanja Djurisic and 6-foot-8 Marcus Thorton up front and add some more size with a frontcourt-heavy recruiting class.

Those three are the most obvious candidates to demonstrate the SEC isn't all about Kentucky and Florida, but there are a handful of other dark horses who could surprise.

Alabama could be a factor if Tulane transfer Ricky Tarrant can help replace Trevor Releford's perimeter scoring. Jarvis Summers is ready to emerge from Marshall Henderson's shadow at Ole Miss. Auburn has K.T. Harrell back, several promising newcomers and tons of recruiting momentum under Bruce Pearl. And Tennessee, Missouri and Texas A&M each have some promise, though all three are more likely a year away.

Coaches in the SEC have said for the past two years that they're tired of the perception the league isn't any good besides Kentucky and Florida. For that criticism to vanish completely, however, the rest of the league is going to have to do something about it.

MAKING A LIST

More from Yahoo Sports' 2014-15 Season Preview:
Oct. 3: Eight key questions as practice begins
Oct. 6Preseason Top 25 with best-case and worst-case scenarios
Oct. 7: WCC Preview: Newcomers may tighten Gonzaga's grip on the league
Oct. 8: To become a more well-rounded player, Kyle Wiltjer changed his body and his game
Oct. 9: Ranking the 15 transfers who can make the biggest impact
Oct. 10: A-10 Preview: As VCU ascends, much of the league rebuilds
Oct. 13: Atoning for last March's costly gaffe drives VCU's JeQuan Lewis.
Oct. 14: Ten freshmen who will make the biggest impact
• Oct. 15: Mountain West Preview: Who will emerge to challenge San Diego State?
• Oct. 16:
Cody Doolin could be the ideal antidote to what has ailed UNLV
• Oct. 20: Ten coaches under the most pressure to win this season
• Oct. 21: Big East Preview: To raise its stature, the league needs a big March
Oct. 22: Chris Holtmann aims to guide Butler through period of uncertainty 
 Oct. 23: The 25 most intriguing non-league games of the new season 
 Oct. 24: American Athletic Conference preview: All eyes on UConn, SMU
 Oct. 27: Six teams on the rise entering the season

Best shooter: Michael Frazier, Florida. The only returning starter from Florida's Final Four team is also the SEC's most dangerous outside shooting threat. Frazier sank 44.7 percent of his threes last season, but the Gators will need him to expand his all-around game this season and become more comfortable creating off the dribble when opponents run at him behind the 3-point arc. A whopping 77.3 percent of Frazier's field goal attempts last season were threes.
Best playmaker: Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss. The SEC's active leader in points and assists looked for his own shot more often last season after serving as more of a distributor the previous two years. The result was both an uptick in scoring and efficiency as Summers averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 48.6 percent from the field while still dishing out 3.8 assists a night. Can Summers match or better those numbers without Marshall Henderson to distract opposing defenses? That's a big key for Ole Miss.
Best defender: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky. It will be difficult for John Calipari not to give Cauley-Stein plenty of playing time because of the impact he makes on defense. The 7-foot junior averaged 2.9 blocks per game last season and showed the quickness and athleticism to defend on the perimeter as well as in the paint. He also has worked this offseason to become more of a threat offensively besides on the glass.
Top NBA prospect: Karl Towns, Kentucky.The 7-foot freshman is one of a few prospects capable of unseating Duke's Jahlil Okafor as the potential No. 1 pick in the draft next June. His skill level and ability to make shots from the perimeter are impressive, but he has a tendency to coast too often out there. The key will be whether Towns can show the aggressiveness and physicality in the paint to impact the game on both ends of the floor
Best backcourt: Kentucky. You could make an argument for Florida or Georgia here, but Kentucky still has the most perimeter talent. Wing Aaron Harrison will try to build on his brilliant postseason last March, freshman Devin Booker will provide much-needed outside shooting, Andrew Harrison will look to bounce back from a mildly disappointing freshman season and distributor extraordinaire Tyler Ulis will push him for minutes at point guard if he can't. The only issue for the Wildcats is the lack of a prototypical small forward. Calipari seems inclined to go big at the start of the year with Alex Poythress or Trey Lyles, but look for a three-guard look at some point with Ulis allowing both Harrisons to move off ball.
Best frontcourt: It's Kentucky, and it's not close. All six of the Wildcats' top big men could play in the NBA someday. The key will be finding enough playing time to satisfy everyone — especially if the experiment of playing Poythress or Lyles at small forward backfires and both wind up eating up minutes at power forward too.
Best recruiting class: Kentucky. If you have to ask, you're probably not paying attention. Four more elite freshmen join the Wildcats this season. Towns is the top prospect, but Lyle is a skilled college-ready forward, Booker is an elite shooter with enough athleticism not to be one-dimensional and Ulis is a pure point guard with the quickness and court vision to make an immediate impact. He doesn't have the size of a prototypical Calipari point guard, but that will make him an ideal change of pace with the Harrisons.  
Coach on the rise: Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee. He recruited Kenneth Faried to Morehead State and took the Eagles to an NCAA tournament upset of Louisville. He took Southern Mississippi to 56 wins the past two years. Now Tyndall brings his brand of enthusiasm to a big-time program after Tennessee hired him to replace Cuonzo Martin this past spring. The Vols are probably too inexperienced to accomplish a whole lot this season, but it shouldn't be too long before Tyndall has them back in the NCAA tournament.
Coach on the hot seat: Anthony Grant, Alabama. One day after Alabama concluded its first losing season in 14 years last March, athletic director Bill Battle expressed support for Grant. "This is a program that is not adrift, and is not devoid of leadership and talent," Battle wrote. "I believe this is a program that has better days ahead." Between lingering disappointment over last year's 19-loss season and the arrival of Bruce Pearl raising rival Auburn's stature, Grant needs those "better days" to arrive soon. He must hope the return of four starters and the addition of high-scoring Tulane transfer Ricky Tarrant can propel Alabama back to the upper half of the SEC.

FACTS AND FIGURES

New coaches: Kim Anderson, Missouri. Donnie Tyndall, Tennessee. Bruce Pearl, Auburn.
Regular-season winner last season: Florida
Tourney winner last season: Florida
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2013-14: 7th, 2012-13: 8th, 2011-12: 4th
NCAA bids the past three years: 10 (Florida 3, Kentucky 2, Missouri, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Alabama)

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 29, 2014, 4:12 pm

When someone from Siena College's human resources department told Greg Dashnaw an anonymous man had dropped off an old championship ring he found in his basement, the longtime athletic trainer assumed the call came to him since he had the best chance of identifying its owner.

A close-up of both rings (via Siena Athletics)Only after the voice at the other end of the line began describing the ring did Dashnaw consider the unlikely possibility it could be one of the two stolen from him more than two decades ago.

The ring Dashnaw received as head trainer for Siena's 1988 league championship basketball team left out the "n" in his last name. That matched the year and name on the ring dropped off at the human resources office last week.

"I sprinted right up there to see the ring," Dashnaw said. "I was nervous and hoping but I hadn't seen it in 23 years. They gave it to me and I couldn't believe it. It was my ring."

Dashnaw attaches great sentimental significance to the ring because it serves as a symbol of one of the most successful eras of Siena basketball.

In 1988, the Saints captured their first-ever league title and earned an NIT bid for the first time. That served as a precursor to an even more memorable 1989 season marred by a measles outbreak so severe the team played a handful of games in completely empty arenas to guard against the spread of disease. Siena nonetheless shook that distraction off to repeat as conference champs, reach the NCAA tournament for the first time and upset third-seeded Stanford in the opening round.

Dashnaw was proud enough of both those seasons that he displayed his 1988 NIT ring and 1989 NCAA tournament ring side-by-side on his dresser in the Albany apartment he rented. Both vanished from his apartment in 1991 while Dashnaw was out of town on a basketball road trip.

"They were pretty much the only things I had at the time that were worth anything," Dashnaw said. "I don't know if someone broke in or I left the door unlocked, but that was the last time I'd seen either of them."

Though Dashnaw looked into replacing both rings, the $500 apiece price tag was too steep for him at the time. Nonetheless, their absence continued to gnaw at him over the years, especially since the Harrisville, N.Y., native has remained at Siena for 29 years and has grown deeply attached to the school.

Dashnaw mentioned the second ring to the human resources staffer who called him in case it also had been returned. No luck. He also told the Albany Times-Union's Siena beat writer about it when the reporter did a story about the discovery of the 1988 ring for Tuesday morning's newspaper.

Even so, Dashnaw was still feeling fortunate to recover one of the rings when he received a call from a local police sergeant at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

"He said he needed to talk to me about something, and I was kind of scared," Dashnaw said. "I was like, 'What did I do wrong?' I met him outside because I didn't want him coming in the training room and everyone thinking he's arresting me or something. I knew I didn't do anything wrong, but the last thing I wanted to do was embarrass the college."

When the police sergeant arrived, he asked Dashnaw to produce his ID. Seconds later, he pulled a baggie out of his pocket containing Dashnaw's 1989 NCAA tournament ring.

"He said, 'Somebody saw the article this morning, came into the station and anonymously dropped this off,'" Dashnaw said. "I was just shaking at that point."

Not enough time has passed for Dashnaw to fully process his good fortune, but he's elated to have back both of the rings stolen from him so long ago. He insists he doesn't care who the anonymous donors were, nor does he harbor any ill will toward the thief.

"I don't hold any grudges," Dashnaw said. "Who knows what might have happened over the years? I could have lost them somewhere else. I could have had a house fire. I got them back. That's all that matters."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 28, 2014, 10:06 pm

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — At the same time most teams were hard at work in practice just over a week ago, Gonzaga players spent two days far away from a basketball court. 

They piled into a cabin about 45 miles outside Spokane for an overnight retreat designed to build trust and give the Zags a chance to get to know one-another better. No access to cell phones, TV or wireless Internet meant players had to devote most of their time to chatting, cooking meals for each other or participating in team-building exercises that forced them to work together to solve puzzles or tackle other challenges.

"We thought it was really valuable because that stuff translates on the court big time," senior point guard Kevin Pangos said Monday at the WCC's tip-off luncheon. "Having to work together and work through obstacles to achieve a goal, that's similar to what we'll have to do during the season. Everything won't go smoothly during the season, so we'll be able to look back on this.

Two days of team building is especially valuable for Gonzaga this season because the Zags welcome seven important newcomers. Transfers Byron Wesley (USC) and Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky) are likely to begin the year in the starting lineup, while highly touted freshmen Domantas Sabonis, Josh Perkins and Silas Melson are expected to contribute heavily off the bench.

Whereas Gonzaga coach Mark Few normally begins a season with concerns about his team's depth at a position of weakness or its prowess in a certain aspect of the game, he doesn't hide that he likes his roster a lot entering this season. He calls this the deepest and perhaps the most talented team he has coached but acknowledges that one of the keys to translating that into victories will be fast-forwarding the chemistry-building process.   

"The retreat was just about getting all of us together with no distractions," Few said. "With as many new guys as we have, I've spent less time on Xs and Os and game film stuff and more time on team building than we have in the past."

Assuming Gonzaga's team building translates into on-court chemistry, the Zags could be poised for one of their best seasons under Few. Between five returning rotation players and an array of promising newcomers, Gonzaga goes at least two-deep at every position.

What makes Gonzaga's frontcourt formidable is that each member's skill set complements one-another.

Preseason All-WCC center Przemek Karnowski is a mammoth 7-footer who seldom ventures outside the paint at either end of the floor, protecting the rim defensively and scoring with his back to the basket on offense. The 6-foot-10 Wiltjer is a classic stretch four who is deadly from behind the arc yet has spent his redshirt year getting stronger and more comfortable playing with his back to the basket. And Sabonis, the son of longtime NBA center Arvydas Saboins, is a polished, skilled forward with high-level experience, having played in Spain's top division last season.

The new additions to Gonzaga's backcourt also promise to bolster a perimeter corps that already was a strength for the Zags.

Wesley, USC's leading scorer last season, is a prototypical high-major small forward who provides the size, athleticism and slashing ability Gonzaga has traditionally lacked at that position. Perkins, a consensus top 100 recruit, is a pass-first point guard whose ball handling and court vision should enable Pangos to slide off ball when they're on the floor together.   

And don't forget Pangos and shooting guard Gary Bell, the two four-year starters who enter the season fully healthy after nagging injuries hampered them most of last season. An ankle and toe injury prevented Pangos from either changing speed or direction the way he typically would have last season, but he spent a tedious three months recuperating this offseason and now pronounces himself pain-free.

"Playing through slight pain would have kept it from healing as fast, so I had to shut it all down," Pangos said. "I tell people I think I was pretty grumpy those three months. Basketball is relaxing for me, so when I wasn't able to play, I didn't know what to do with my time. I spent a lot of time with my family. I saw some friends. I tried reading books. I don't think I completed a full book. I tried but I couldn't sit still. It was tough, but I think it was the mental and physical break I needed."

So how good can Gonzaga be? Can the Zags approach the level of regular season success they had two years ago when Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris led them to a 32-3 record and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament? Is this the year the Zags finally shed the postseason underachiever label brought on by advancing past the opening weekend only twice in their past 12 trips? Though Gonzaga begins the season in the top 15 nationally and as the unanimous pick to win the WCC, Few isn't ready to say that yet.

"I told my team the other day that it would be so much easier for this to be our worst team than our best team," Few said. "We really haven't had a bad team in 16 years. We really haven't even had an average team in 16 years. So it will be way, way more difficult for this to be the best team we've ever had. It's certainly possible, but the bar has been set high."

One thing Few is certain about is that cohesiveness will be key with so many newcomers. It's too early to assess the results of all the team building the Zags have done so far, but both Few and Pangos are pleased with what they've seen in practice.

"Last year we had so many guys who had been here more than a year," Pangos said. "This year, we get along great, but we have to continue working on the court and figuring out everyone's roles. At this point we're doing OK, but it's still new. We'll continue to get better."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 28, 2014, 4:09 pm

When elite prospect Skal Labissiere tweeted Monday night that he intends to play his senior season of high school basketball at Reach Your Dream Preparatory Academy, the timing of the announcement two months into the school year seemed a little strange.

Some quick research soon revealed that was only one of many abnormalities.

Reach Your Dream Prep is run by Labissiere's legal guardian Gerald Hamilton and shares a name with the Memphis-based non-profit organization he founded to bring talented international prospects to the United States. The school is "coming soon" according to its rudimentary website, which features only a logo, contact information and a map.

A call to the number listed on the site goes to a voicemail belonging to Hamilton. The address listed on the site is the same as Elliston Baptist Church & Academy, a tiny private school in Memphis that serves students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Why would Hamilton seemingly create a prep school out of thin air in late October of Labissiere's senior year? It's difficult to answer that question with certainty since Hamilton did not return a voicemail Monday night, but it's likely a last-ditch attempt to give Labissiere one final high school season.

Labissiere, a 6-foot-11 consensus top 10 recruit, spent his first three years after immigrating from Haiti at Evangelical Christian School. He transferred to Lausanne Collegiate School for his senior year, but state officials ruled him ineligible to play there because he had participated in spring practice at Evangelical Christian.

What Rivals.com's Eric Bossi contends is that Labissiere may attempt to remain enrolled at Lausanne Collegiate School for his academics but still play for Reach Your Dream Prep. Reach Your Dream Prep would compete against teams outside the sphere of Tennessee high school basketball — presumably home school teams and fellow prep schools.

All jokes aside, i mentioned in a reply that RYd isn't a school, it's more or less a home school association team. At least my understanding

— Eric Bossi (@ebosshoops) October 28, 2014

This isn't a move to create grades and anybody who has ever dealt with Skal has nothing but respect for him. This essentially a way (cont)

— Eric Bossi (@ebosshoops) October 28, 2014

To try & get on a team & hopefully be eligible for things like Mickey D's game w/out having to leave good school @ Lausanne where ineligible

— Eric Bossi (@ebosshoops) October 28, 2014

If Labissiere indeed attempts to play for Reach Your Dream Prep or take classes there, that will probably only increase concerns about his college eligibility and heighten speculation he may pull an Emmanuel Mudiay and play overseas. The NCAA's recent crackdown on shady prep schools targeted institutions with far more infrastructure in place than it appears Reach You Dream Prep currently has.

Among the schools recruiting Labissiere are Memphis, Kentucky, Baylor, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgetown. Labissiere has said he could commit to one of those schools as soon as November.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 28, 2014, 6:38 am

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

Travis Ford joked with reporters that the newcomer warming up clad in the No. 1 jersey at Oklahoma State's Midnight Madness this past weekend had a green light to shoot whenever he wanted and could log as many minutes as he pleased. Wise choice by Ford since that newcomer was the school's most powerful booster. Business tycoon Boone Pickens warmed up with the Cowboys dressed in full team attire, including low-top sneakers, shorts and a shooting shirt with a No. 1 "Pickens" jersey underneath. It was shades of the rapper Drake's appearance at Big Blue Madness last week except that the 86-year-old Pickens had the common sense not to let TV cameras catch him airballing a shot. Though Pickens left the floor before the actual scrimmage itself began, don't be surprised if he reconsiders and takes Ford up on his offer later this season. With Oklahoma State losing standouts Marcus Smart and Markel Brown this past spring, the Cowboys need all the reinforcements they can find — even 86-year-olds who have long since exhausted their eligibility.

(Thanks, Pistols Firing Blog)

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'
Bill Self recreates Andrew Wiggins' infamous draft day outfit
Clemson student sinks $25,000 half-court shot
Costume-clad Tubby Smith crashes motorcycle
Drake's appearance at Kentucky includes cringe-worthy air ball
Mercer's Ike Nwamu leaps over teammate, throws down big dunk
New Mexico coach shaves his head for a good cause
Memphis guard throws down off-the-glass, between-the-legs slam
Fresno State guard sinks five straight half-court shots
Xavier coach Chris Mack performs Beastie Boys classic
Xavier freshman's juggling two-ball dunk
Michigan State's Tom Izzo dresses as a member of 'KISS'
• Megabooster Boone Pickens suits up for Oklahoma State

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 27, 2014, 11:05 pm

Our 2014-15 season preview continues with the Dagger's look at six teams on the rise. Check back every day for more college hoops preview content.

More from Yahoo Sports' 2014-15 Season Preview:
Oct. 3: Eight key questions as practice begins
Oct. 6Preseason Top 25 with best-case and worst-case scenarios
Oct. 7: WCC Preview: Newcomers may tighten Gonzaga's grip on the league
Oct. 8: To become a more well-rounded player, Kyle Wiltjer changed his body and his game
Oct. 9: Ranking the 15 transfers who can make the biggest impact
Oct. 10: A-10 Preview: As VCU ascends, much of the league rebuilds
Oct. 13: Atoning for last March's costly gaffe drives VCU's JeQuan Lewis.
Oct. 14: Ten freshmen who will make the biggest impact
• Oct. 15: Mountain West Preview: Who will emerge to challenge San Diego State?
• Oct. 16:
Cody Doolin could be the ideal antidote to what has ailed UNLV
• Oct. 20: Ten coaches under the most pressure to win this season
• Oct. 21: Big East Preview: To raise its stature, the league needs a big March
Oct. 22: Chris Holtmann aims to guide Butler through period of uncertainty 
 Oct. 23: The 25 most intriguing non-league games of the new season 
 Oct. 24: American Athletic Conference preview: All eyes on UConn, SMU
 Oct. 27: Six teams on the rise entering the season

Arkansas (22-12, 10-8): Thanks to a flurry of ill-advised early departures and the team's maddening inability to win away from home, the rebuilding process under Nolan Richardson disciple Mike Anderson has taken longer than most Arkansas fans expected when he arrived in 2011. At last, however, the Razorbacks' patience may finally pay off. Arkansas appears primed for a breakout season thanks to a roster that blends experience, talent and depth. The most gifted player is 6-foot-11 Bobby Portis, an NBA prospect who sank jump shots and ran the floor well as a freshman but needs to improve his rebounding and low-post repertoire to emerge as one of college basketball's elite big men. Complementing Portis are experienced guards Michael Qualls and Ky Madden, both of whom fit well into Anderson's fast-paced, pressing system. Qualls was a SportsCenter regular for his dunks last season, but Arkansas would love to see him produce more highlights with his jump shot this year. Madden will benefit from being able to move off ball due to the arrival of junior college transfer Jabril Durham and skilled freshman point guard Anton Beard. Ultimately, with so much returning talent and a rare peaceful offseason, there's no excuse for Arkansas not to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008. The Razorbacks are a tier or two below Kentucky and Florida but a strong contender to finish third in the SEC.

Miami (17-16, 7-11): For a program that will rely almost exclusively on newcomers this season, Miami has the potential to ascend in the ACC this season. The reason for that is a loaded backcourt fueled by a pair of coveted transfers. Angel Rodriguez, a second-team all-Big 12 point guard in his final season at Kansas State two years ago, will immediately assume the role of offensive catalyst and team leader. He'll be aided in the backcourt by wing Sheldon McLellan, a Texas transfer who led the Longhorns in scoring two years ago but clashed with coach Rick Barnes. Throw in redshirt freshman Deandre Burnett, true freshman Ja'Quan Newton and returner Manu Lecomte, and it's clear the Canes have plenty of options at guard. The key will whether the Miami frontcourt can survive without suspended junior college All-American Ivan Cruz Uceda for the first 16 games of the season. Seven-footer Tonye Jekiri will be the only true big man available for the first half of the year and will have to provide defense and rebounding.

Nebraska (19-13, 11-7): Between the raucous sellout crowds at its sparkling new arena and an unexpected late-season surge to slip into the NCAA tournament, Nebraska enjoyed its most successful season in at least two decades last year. Now the Huskers will try to build on that success and show it was no one-year aberration. Nebraska has every chance to make loud crowds, marquee wins and national headlines its new normal thanks to the return of Big Ten player of the year candidate Terran Petteway, slashing wing Shavon Shields and most of last season's core. The addition of Georgetown transfer Moses Abraham will also help, giving the Huskers a physical defensive presence in the paint to pair with finesse-oriented stretch forward Walter Pitchford. If all Nebraska's returners merely improve incrementally and a season-ending knee injury to forward Leslee Smith doesn't leave the team shy of frontcourt depth, the Huskers should return to the postseason and maybe even notch their first NCAA tournament win in program history. If Tai Webster takes a big leap at point guard, a third big man emerges to solidify the frontcourt and Petteway develops a consistent outside shot to go with his knack for attacking off the dribble, Nebraska is fully capable of accomplishing even more than that.

Northern Iowa (16-15, 10-8): If any Valley team is going to emerge as a foil for Wichita State, Northern Iowa is probably the most likely candidate. The Panthers return their six leading scorers from last season and add a potential impact newcomer in Virginia transfer Paul Jesperson. One of the major reasons Northern Iowa underachieved a bit last season was the Panthers lost their hardscrabble defensive identity, playing at a faster tempo but surrendering the Valley's fifth-most points per possession. Interior scorers Seth Tuttle and Nate Buss sometimes appeared afraid to challenge shots in the paint last season because they didn't want to get into foul trouble, a mindset that must change. Regardless of how much Northern Iowa gets better defensively, the Panthers remain efficient on offense. The 6-foot-8 Tuttle is a four-year starter and a returning all-league player, guard Deon Mitchell generates offense off the dribble and Jesperson is a former top 100 recruit who shot well from the perimeter at Virginia but will seek to showcase an improved all-around game. Dethroning Wichita State will be a difficult goal for Northern Iowa to achieve, but the Panthers could be formidable if they can improve their defensive without sacrificing scoring. This is a team with legitimate NCAA tournament aspirations.

SMU (27-10, 12-6): For a team that unexpectedly lost its most coveted recruit in years when he decided to play professionally overseas this past summer, SMU is surprisingly well positioned entering the new season. One year removed from being maybe the last team left out of the NCAA tournament field, Hall of fame coach Larry Brown has enough talent to absorb the loss of Emmanuel Mudiay, crack the field of 68 with room to spare and maybe even do some damage too. What gives the Mustangs a great chance to accomplish those goals is the return of every key player besides guard Nick Russell and forward Shawn Williams. All-conference point guard Nic Moore is an outstanding shooter and distributor, forward Markus Kennedy is a double-double threat and wing Keith Frazier and big man Yanick Moreira both have breakout potential. The arrival of battle-tested Xavier transfer Justin Martin also provides another double-digit scorer who improved every season with the Musketeers.  One concern for SMU is the eligibility of Kennedy, whose academics are apparently an issue. Brown released a statement earlier this month acknowledging Kennedy "still has some work to do to meet eligibility standards for competition this season" but also insisting he expected the forward "to regain his eligibility and get back on track to earn his degree."

Utah (21-12, 9-9 last year): In a Pac-12 that lost a ton of talent this past offseason, Utah is an exception. The Utes return their top six scorers from a 21-win team and add a solid recruiting class, two huge reasons many consider them the most viable threat to league favorite Arizona entering the season. The biggest catalyst for Utah's rapid improvement is point guard Delon Wright, a first-team all-league selection last year with the size, quickness, court vision and ball-hawking instincts to be selected in the first round of next June's NBA draft. He and versatile small forward Jordan Loveridge will carry the offense, but the Utes need others to provide complementary scoring, whether that's 5-foot-10 sharpshooter Brandon Taylor or promising freshman forwards Brekkott Chapman and Kyle Kuzma. Defense should again be a strength for Utah with 7-foot Dallin Bachynski protecting the rim and giving the security the freedom to gamble for steals, but the Utes will need to prove they perform down the stretch in tight games and on the road. They lost eight games by four or fewer points last season and they dropped their first six Pac-12 road games.

Also on the rise: Auburn, LSU, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Rhode Island

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 27, 2014, 2:36 pm

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

Tom Izzo talks to the crowd while dressed as a member of the band Kiss (AP)The king of the creative Midnight Madness entrance outdid himself this year. Tom Izzo arrived at Michigan State Madness on Friday night clad in a KISS costume so elaborate it was difficult to even recognize the veteran Spartans coach. The precursor to the costume was a video in which Izzo and his family discussed what he would have done had he not been a coach. That led to a daydream sequence in which a college-age Izzo and close friend Steve Mariucci joke about the future Michigan State coach joining a band. And with that the video board at the Breslin Center cut to the arena's loading dock, where a tour bus arrived carrying the Spartans players and Izzo, clad in a black wig, face paint, black leather and spikes. He joined a KISS tribute band on stage before addressing the crowd. In past years, Izzo has pulled off all sorts of creative Midnight Madness entrances, from dressing as Iron Man, to driving a race car, to rappelling from the ceiling, to being shot out of a cannon. This probably isn't No. 1 on the list, but it's further proof the king of Midnight Madness isn't abdicating his crown anytime soon.

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'
Bill Self recreates Andrew Wiggins' infamous draft day outfit
Clemson student sinks $25,000 half-court shot
Costume-clad Tubby Smith crashes motorcycle
Drake's appearance at Kentucky includes cringe-worthy air ball
Mercer's Ike Nwamu leaps over teammate, throws down big dunk
New Mexico coach shaves his head for a good cause
Memphis guard throws down off-the-glass, between-the-legs slam
Fresno State guard sinks five straight half-court shots
Xavier coach Chris Mack performs Beastie Boys classic
Xavier freshman's juggling two-ball dunk
Michigan State's Tom Izzo dresses as a member of 'KISS'

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 25, 2014, 3:38 pm

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

Before they tried to one-up each other in the dunk contest at Musketeer Madness on Friday night, freshman Makinde London and sophomore Jalen Reynolds competed in a different genre. They participated in a freestyle rap battle. The rhymes from Reynolds and London were decent but their dunks were much more impressive. The 6-foot-9 Reynolds had a nice off-the-glass windmill. The 6-foot-10 London topped that a few minutes later, juggling three balls on his way to the rim before batting away one of them and dunking the other two at the same time. Judges at Musketeer Madness deemed the dunk contest a draw between Reynolds and London, but I think the freshman was robbed. Their rapping skills are about even, but London deserved bragging rights in the dunk contest.

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'
Bill Self recreates Andrew Wiggins' infamous draft day outfit
Clemson student sinks $25,000 half-court shot
Costume-clad Tubby Smith crashes motorcycle
Drake's appearance at Kentucky includes cringe-worthy air ball
Mercer's Ike Nwamu leaps over teammate, throws down big dunk
New Mexico coach shaves his head for a good cause
Memphis guard throws down off-the-glass, between-the-legs slam
Fresno State guard sinks five straight half-court shots
Xavier coach Chris Mack performs Beastie Boys classic
Xavier freshman's juggling two-ball dunk

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 25, 2014, 1:36 pm

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

The day before Musketeer Madness, Xavier coach Chris Mack encouraged fans to attend and hinted he might have a surprise in store for those who did. "Oh, & the Macks got something for ya!" he tweeted. Something turned out to be a memorable entrance. Mack emerged wearing a backwards red cap and oversized dollar-sign chain and rapping the Beastie Boys classic "Paul Revere" with the help of daughters Lainee and Hailee. Mack won't be touring with Ad-Rock and Mike D anytime soon but credit him for an enthusiastic performance. Of course, the big question is whether any of Mack's players actually knew the song he was performing. The Beastie Boys originally released "Paul Revere" in 1985, nearly a decade before any of the Musketeers players were born.

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'
Bill Self recreates Andrew Wiggins' infamous draft day outfit
Clemson student sinks $25,000 half-court shot
Costume-clad Tubby Smith crashes motorcycle
Drake's appearance at Kentucky includes cringe-worthy air ball
Mercer's Ike Nwamu leaps over teammate, throws down big dunk
New Mexico coach shaves his head for a good cause
Memphis guard throws down off-the-glass, between-the-legs slam
Fresno State guard sinks five straight half-court shots
Xavier coach Chris Mack performs Beastie Boys classic

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 25, 2014, 12:51 pm

Yahoo Sports will break down the top 10 leagues for the upcoming college basketball season working backward from No. 10 to No. 1. Here's a look at our No. 6 league, the American Athletic Conference.

The title race in the American Athletic Conference this winter isn't likely to inspire much nostalgia or dredge up lingering hostilities.

Not once in the previous 48 years had the two clear-cut favorites even played one-another before they renewed acquaintances in the AAC's debut season last year.

In one corner is tradition-rich defending national champion UConn, which landed in the AAC last year when the old Big East split up and it couldn't find a power conference home for its fledgling football program. In the other corner is onetime afterthought SMU, a program that hasn't been to the NCAA tournament in more than two decades but has rocketed to national prominence in the three years since bringing in hall of fame coach Larry Brown to spark a resurgence. 

What the AAC race lacks in history it could make up for in drama because both the Huskies and Mustangs have the potential to be factors deep into March this season. The return of Ryan Boatright and the arrival of some fresh faces at wing give UConn a chance to absorb the graduation of All-American Shabazz Napier, while a slew of returning talent ensures SMU will be able to withstand top recruit Emmanuel Mudiay's decision to skip college and play professionally overseas. 

UConn is probably a slight favorite based on both talent and pedigree. 

Few teams will be able to match the Huskies' depth and talent in the backcourt even without Napier. Ryan Boatright will shift from complementary scorer to point guard, catalyst and unquestioned team leader. Promising freshman Daniel Hamilton and NC State transfer Rodney Purvis will provide scoring from the wing spots. And between junior college transfer Sam Cassell Jr., returning sophomore Terrence Samuel and last year's forgotten man Omar Calhoun, there are no shortage of options off the bench either. 

Frontcourt scoring may once again be an issue for UConn, but the Huskies should be outstanding defensively in the paint. Athletic 7-footer Amida Brimah averaged 2.3 blocks per game in just 16 minutes a night last season, showcasing the potential to be one of the nation's elite rim protectors in a bigger role this season. Forward Phillip Nolan added 20 pounds of muscle during the offseason and should be a force on the glass, while Kentan Facey and freshman Rakim Lubin are capable of contributing off the bench. 

SMU certainly won't fear UConn after sweeping a pair of games from the Huskies last season. Nor will the Mustangs lack for motivation after they were maybe the final team left out of the NCAA tournament last season despite a solid 23-9 record and a 12-6 mark in league play. 

What gives the Mustangs a great chance to leave no doubt about their NCAA tournament candidacy this winter is the return of every key player besides guard Nick Russell and forward Shawn Williams from a team that finished as the NIT runner-up. All-conference point guard Nic Moore is an outstanding shooter and distributor, forward Markus Kennedy is a double-double threat and wing Keith Frazier and big man Yanick Moreira both have breakout potential. The arrival of battle-tested Xavier transfer Justin Martin also provides another double-digit scorer who improved every season with the Musketeers. 

One concern for SMU is the eligibility of Kennedy, whose academics are apparently an issue. Brown released a statement last week acknowledging Kennedy "still has some work to do to meet eligibility standards for competition this season" but also insisting he expected the forward "to regain his eligibility and get back on track to earn his degree." 

Should either SMU or UConn falter, Memphis and Cincinnati are the best positioned to take advantage. 

The Tigers may have the league's two best frontcourt players in Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols, but they'll need Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson to solidify a backcourt that lost every key player from last season. Cincinnati once again should be formidable defensively and on the glass, but the Bearcats may be even more of a mess than usual offensively with Sean Kilpatrick graduating and not a single player back who averaged more than 6.8 points. 

Of the rest of the league, the team most capable of making a surprise NCAA tournament run is Tulsa. Guard James Harrison, the MVP of last year's Conference USA tournament, is back to lead the Golden Hurricane, which hope to carry over momentum from last year's NCAA tournament appearance despite coach Danny Manning bolting for Wake Forest.  

MAKING A LIST

More from Yahoo Sports' 2014-15 Season Preview:
Oct. 3: Eight key questions as practice begins
Oct. 6Preseason Top 25 with best-case and worst-case scenarios
Oct. 7: WCC Preview: Newcomers may tighten Gonzaga's grip on the league
Oct. 8: To become a more well-rounded player, Kyle Wiltjer changed his body and his game
Oct. 9: Ranking the 15 transfers who can make the biggest impact
Oct. 10: A-10 Preview: As VCU ascends, much of the league rebuilds
Oct. 13: Atoning for last March's costly gaffe drives VCU's JeQuan Lewis.
Oct. 14: Ten freshmen who will make the biggest impact
• Oct. 15: Mountain West Preview: Who will emerge to challenge San Diego State?
• Oct. 16:
Cody Doolin could be the ideal antidote to what has ailed UNLV
• Oct. 20: Ten coaches under the most pressure to win this season
• Oct. 21: Big East Preview: To raise its stature, the league needs a big March
Oct. 22: Chris Holtmann aims to guide Butler through period of uncertainty 
 Oct. 23: The 25 most intriguing non-league games of the new season 
 Oct. 24: American Athletic Conference preview: All eyes on UConn, SMU

Best shooter: Nic Moore, SMU. Overshadowed by Russ Smith, Shabazz Napier and Sean Kilpatrick last season in the guard-heavy American Athletic Conference, Moore figures to enjoy his time in the spotlight this year. The 5-foot-9 senior averaged 13.6 points and 4.9 assists per game last season and shot 43.6 percent from behind the arc, the highest among returning players in the league. Moore will retain his starting point guard job with top prospect Emmanuel Mudiay opting to turn pro.
Best playmaker: Ryan Boatright, UConn. The departure of Napier pushes Boatright from a complementary position into the role of point guard, offensive catalyst and team leader. Those are duties the dynamic 6-foot senior should be able to handle after averaging 12.1 points and 3.4 assists as a secondary ball handler and scorer last season.
Best defender: Amida Brimah, UConn. Brimah emerged as UConn's most pleasant surprise last season, averaging a 2.3 blocks per game despite logging only 16.2 minutes a night. Expectations will be higher for the athletic 7-footer from Ghana this season even though shoulder surgery kept him from playing much this summer. UConn needs Brimah to evolve into a fearsome rim protector and capable rebounder while also becoming a threat on offense as well.  
Top NBA prospect: Take your pick between two UConn standouts. It could be Brimah because his size, athleticism and shot-blocking instincts translate well to the next level. It also could be freshman Daniel Hamilton, a 6-foot-7 wing with prototypical NBA size and a knack for pushing the tempo and putting the ball in the basket. Heck, even former McDonald's All-American and NC State transfer Rodney Purvis is certainly on the NBA's radar as well. In other words, UConn has loads of potential even with Napier, DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey no longer in Storrs.
Best backcourt:
 UConn. You know about Boatright, Hamilton and Purvis by now, but the Huskies go six deep at guard. Omar Calhoun was a double-digit scorer and a spark plug off the bench before fading from the rotation last season. Terrence Samuel was a pleasant surprise during the Huskies' NCAA tournament victories over Villanova and Iowa State. And Sam Cassell Jr. is a former Maryland signee who transferred from junior college.   
Best frontcourt: Memphis. All three of Memphis' returning players from last year are frontcourt guys. Six-foot-9 double-double threat Shaq Goodwin is an all-league caliber talent and will anchor the paint this year. Highly touted 6-foot-8 Austin Nichols will try to build on an AAC rookie of the year freshman season in which he averaged 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds. And don't forget sophomore swingman Nick King, who only logged 20 or more minutes in three games last season but will play a far bigger role this year. 
Best recruiting class: UConn. The best recruiting class is the one with the best bloodlines. Hamilton, Rivals.com's No. 14 recruit, is the younger brother of former Texas star Jordan Hamilton and current UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton. Sam Cassell Jr., a former Maryland signee who spent last year in junior college, is the son of the former longtime NBA guard. And Rakim Lubin ... well, nobody in his family is famous, but the 6-foot-8 freshman still is capable of making an immediate impact off the bench on the glass. 
Coach on the rise: Kevin Ollie, UConn When UConn promoted Ollie to interim coach in Sept. 2012 after Jim Calhoun announced his retirement, the new coach inherited a program ineligible for the postseason and a roster decimated by early departures. Four of the six best players from the previous year's underachieving team had already either turned pro or transferred and the remaining two were also considering leaving. All Ollie has done since then is stabilize the program, claim the full-time job and preside over the most unlikely national title run in school history. His understated demeanor is a good fit for the NBA as well, but it appears he'll stay at UConn for the time being. 
Coach on the hot seat: Donnie Jones, Central Florida. Between the NCAA sanctions under his watch in 2012 and a 4-14 conference record in his debut season in the AAC last year, Jones has a couple strikes against him. Three previous 20-win seasons in Conference USA ought to buy him some patience, but with the team replacing its three leading scorers and nearly 50 percent of its rebounding from last year, the outlook for this season is pretty bleak. Can Jones afford another bottom-tier finish in league play? That may be the question this spring.

FACTS AND FIGURES

New coaches: Frank Haith, Tulsa; Kelvin Sampson, Houston; Orlando Antigua, South Florida
Regular-season winner last season: Louisville/Cincinnati 
Tourney winner last season: Louisville
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2013-14: 8th, 2012-13: NA 1st, 2011-12: NA 
NCAA bids last season: 4 (Louisville, Cincinnati, UConn, Memphis) 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 24, 2014, 8:59 pm

Mar 22, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Syracuse Orange head coach Jim Boeheim answers questions at a news conference after a men's college basketball game against Dayton Flyers after the third round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at First Niagara Center. (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)Since Syracuse is a private institution under no obligation to reveal information it would prefer to keep quiet, the school has chosen to stay silent regarding the NCAA investigation into its football and men's basketball programs.

Even so, some pertinent details are still beginning to trickle out.

The scope of the investigation dates back about 10 years and includes allegations involving extra benefits and academic violations, ESPN.com reported Thursday night. The most serious alleged violations involve the men's basketball program, according to the report.

Syracuse will appear in front of the NCAA's committee on infractions Oct. 30-31, the Post-Standard reported earlier this week. When a hearing with the committee on infractions is required, that means it involves either level 1 or level 2 violations. The NCAA defines the former as "a violation that seriously undermines or threatens the integrity of any of the NCAA enduring values" and the latter as "a violation that provides or is intended to provide a minimal to significant recruiting, competitive or other advantage."

It's difficult to evaluate exactly what all that means for Syracuse without further information, but certainly none of it sounds promising. Considering the expansive scope of the investigation and the nature of the alleged violations, it has the potential to damage Syracuse's basketball program and longtime coach Jim Boeheim's legacy.

Still, it's far too soon to pass judgment. This week's reports shed a little bit of light on the investigation, but for now we're still mostly in the dark.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 24, 2014, 1:54 pm

Since its cramped gym can only hold about 2,000 spectators, Division III Mount St. Joseph University readily accepted an offer to move its  Nov. 2 women's basketball season opener 13 miles east to the 10,250-seat Cintas Center at Xavier University.

Amazingly, even that wasn't enough to satisfy the overwhelming public demand to witness terminally ill freshman Lauren Hill achieve her dream of playing one final basketball game.

The roughly 5,000 upper-level tickets that went on sale for $5 apiece Wednesday morning sold out within 30 minutes, Lions athletic director Steve Radcliffe said Thursday. Mount St. Joseph is reserving the remaining seats to its game against Hiram College for students, guests of the athletic department and Hill's friends and family.

To accommodate interest from those who couldn't buy tickets or who live outside of Cincinnati, Radcliffe said Mount St. Joseph intends to stream the game on its website and is exploring the possibility of having it broadcast locally or nationally. Xavier University spokesman Tom Eiser said a decision on whether to televise the game could come as soon as Friday.

"The support has been incredible and inspiring," Radcliffe said. "We had planned to play this game on campus, but this thing has just gone so crazy and generated so much interest that now we're able to give another 8,000 people the chance to see the game in person. It's going to help raise money and awareness, and I think that's really positive."

The story of Hill's courage has inspired massive interest nationwide since WKRC-TV in Cincinnati, Yahoo Sports and other outlets first shared it last week.

Doctors don't expect Hill to live past December as a result of an inoperable tumor they discovered growing at the base of her brain stem last year. Fearful that Hill wouldn't be strong enough to fulfill her goal of playing college basketball for the first time, the 19-year-old Indiana native's parents asked the school to petition to have its Nov. 15 season opener moved up — a request the NCAA granted earlier this month.

Lauren Hill shows off a new Cincinnati Reds jersey (via @Reds)Moving up the game was critical because Hill's symptoms have worsened the past few weeks. She told Yahoo Sports last week that her hand-eye coordination has deteriorated, she endures frequent headaches, dizziness and nausea and the right side of her body is so weak that her leg often gives out on her when she walks. She has attended practice with Mount St. Joseph's several days this week, but she typically can't last more than a few minutes on the floor without needing a rest.

"She was given the day off yesterday from practice and classes, but she was back today," Radcliffe said. "I know this is a challenge for her from the standpoint that her body isn't doing what she wants it to do, but she's there almost every day. She's putting it all in and embracing the fact she'll get to go on the floor, hear the crowd and get to play in a game."

Hill's story has captured so much attention that cards, letters and packages from across the nation have arrived at Mount St. Joseph addressed to her every day for the past week. On Tuesday, Hill received a visit at practice from Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Devon Still, whose four-year-old daughter is battling cancer. On Thursday, a jersey and a letter arrived from the Cincinnati Reds wishing Hill luck in her Nov. 2 game. 

What's most gratifying for Hill is the money and awareness she has raised to support the fight against pediatric cancer. Hill has Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a rare, inoperable pediatric brain tumor that primarily affects children ages 5-10 and kills 90 percent of victims within 18 months.

"Wow" is the only word repeating in my head right now," Hill posted on Facebook on Wednesday. "That's all I can think. Wow. This is unbelievable! Never did I ever think this would happen! I've never been so happy- my wish to spread awareness and play in a college game on the court wearing that jersey #22 is coming. I'm just still in shock right now at how many lives I've touched."

The support has been inspiring for everyone who knows Hill as well. Radcliffe views it as the silver lining to a sad but inspiring story.

"From my perspective as athletic director, I find it incredibly fulfilling that we have the chance to help Lauren tell her story and grant her wish to play in a college basketball game," he said. "It's a story we're pleased to be part of even though it has some bittersweetness to it because we know there will be an outcome that's sad. But the game on Nov. 2 hopefully will be a bright shining moment for her and her family before all that."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 23, 2014, 10:53 pm

Our 2014-15 season preview continues with the Dagger's look at the 25 most intriguing non-conference games. Check back every day for more college hoops preview content.

1. Kentucky vs. Kansas, Nov. 18 (Champions Classic in Indianapolis): The marquee game of the Champions Classic will pit likely preseason No. 1 Kentucky against a Kansas team that lost Andrew Wigins and Joel Embiid yet could be stronger this season than last. Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden could be ready to make the leap to starring roles. Newcomers Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander are elite talents.The only question for the Jayhawks is at point guard, where sophomore Frank Mason, combo guard Conner Frankamp or freshman Devonte Graham must emerge.  

More from Yahoo Sports' 2014-15 Season Preview:
Oct. 3: Eight key questions as practice begins
Oct. 6Preseason Top 25 with best-case and worst-case scenarios
Oct. 7: WCC Preview: Newcomers may tighten Gonzaga's grip on the league
Oct. 8: To become a more well-rounded player, Kyle Wiltjer changed his body and his game
Oct. 9: Ranking the 15 transfers who can make the biggest impact
Oct. 10: A-10 Preview: As VCU ascends, much of the league rebuilds
Oct. 13: Atoning for last March's costly gaffe drives VCU's JeQuan Lewis.
Oct. 14: Ten freshmen who will make the biggest impact
• Oct. 15: Mountain West Preview: Who will emerge to challenge San Diego State?
• Oct. 16:
Cody Doolin could be the ideal antidote to what has ailed UNLV
• Oct. 20: Ten coaches under the most pressure to win this season
• Oct. 21: Big East Preview: To raise its stature, the league needs a big March
Oct. 22: Chris Holtmann aims to guide Butler through period of uncertainty 

2. Duke at Wisconsin, Dec. 3: One of the most anticipated Big Ten-ACC Challenge games in recent memory features two of the top five teams in most preseason polls. Wisconsin brings back seven of its top eight players from a Final Four team including All-American candidates Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. Duke boasts its usual collection of elite perimeter players and fills its hole at center with the nation's consensus No. 1 recruit Jahlil Okafor.

3. Kentucky at Louisville, Dec. 27: The nation's premier non-league rivalry will feature a Kentucky team with nine McDonald's All-Americans against a Louisville team with a strong backcourt and a potential All-American forward in Montrezl Harrell. The WIldcats swept a pair of games last season, winning 73-66 in Lexington behind a combined 28 points from Andrew and Aaron Harrison and then ousting the Cardinals from the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16.

4. Gonzaga at Arizona, Dec. 6: This rematch of Arizona's round of 32 NCAA tournament rout last March could also be a battle of the two best teams in the West next season. The Zags return all but two key players, add a strong recruiting class and bring in Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer and USC transfer Byron Wesley. Arizona should again be one of the nation's elite defensive teams and will make up for the loss of leading scorer Nick Johnson by turning to sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, McDonald's All-American Stanley Johnson and a now healthy Brandon Ashley.

5. North Carolina at Kentucky, Dec. 13: Before last year's one-year hiatus, the last five games in this series had been decided by seven points or less. Another close one is possible this year as well if the Tar Heels find perimeter shooters and scorers to take the pressure off Marcus Paige and interior defenders who can replicate departed forward James Michael McAdoo's ability to hedge and recover on ball screens. 

6. Duke vs. UConn, Dec. 18 (East Rutherford, N.J.): Two teams with a surprising amount of NCAA tournament history will meet on a neutral floor in New Jersey. Duke handed UConn a crushing overtime loss in the Elite Eight in 1990 on a Christian Laettner buzzer beater. The Huskies got revenge with two of their biggest wins in program history, the 1999 national title game and the 2004 national semifinals.

7. Florida at Kansas, Dec. 5: Florida launched its 20-game win streak last season with a 67-61 victory over the Jayhawks in Gainesville, but not many of the Gators who spearheaded that victory will be in uniform for the rematch at Allen Fieldhouse. Florida will turn to sharpshooter Michael Frazier, versatile forward Dorian Finney-Smith and former McDonald's All-Americans Kasey Hill and Chris Walker in hopes of winning a second straight against the Jayhawks. 

8. Duke vs. Michigan State, Nov. 18 (Champions Classic in Indianapolis): While this will be much of the nation's first glimpse at highly touted Duke freshmen Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor, the matchup against the Blue Devils will also be an early gauge for whether Michigan State will be a national threat this year. The Spartans lost Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne from last year's Elite Eight team, but they return standout forward Branden Dawson, play-making wing Denzel Valentine and sharpshooter Travis Trice. 

9. Wichita State vs. Memphis, Nov. 18 (Sioux Falls, S.D.): In response to the many complaints that their non-conference schedule wasn't tough enough last season, Wichita State did its best to find quality opponents willing to play this year. One of those who didn't back down was Memphis, which resulted in this intriguing matchup. The Shockers return one of the nation's premier backcourts with Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton, but they have to find a way to replace the production of graduated forward Cleanthony Early.

10. Texas at Kentucky, Dec. 5: Only a few teams boast the interior size and depth to match up with Kentucky's stable of big men, but Big 12 contender Texas is one of them. The Longhorns were one of the nation's premier shot-blocking and rebounding teams a year ago and add elite 6-foot-11 freshman Myles Turner to a frontcourt that already includes Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes, Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh.

11. UConn at Florida, Jan. 3: When UConn and Florida met in the Final Four last April, the underdog Huskies stormed back from an early 12-point deficit to upset the top-seeded Gators 63-53 and move one win closer to their fourth national championship. Florida will get a rematch Jan. 3, but the two teams will look very different. Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey are gone for UConn. Florida will also have four new starters after losing seniors Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete.

12. Michigan at Arizona, Dec. 13: The last time these two name-brand programs met, Michigan led top-ranked Arizona for 32 minutes in Ann Arbor before eventually falling 72-70. The Wolverines will be out for revenge, but they'll be on the road this time and they'll be at a big disadvantage in the frontcourt. They'll have to hope Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle can hold their own in the paint and turn to Caris Levert and Zak Irvin for perimeter offense. 

13. Virginia at VCU, Dec. 5: Hardly anyone outside the state of Virginia saw VCU's 59-56 victory over the Cavs last year because it tipped off at the same time as the Champions Classic. That should change this year with a better time slot and a pair of teams who will begin the season in the preseason top 20. Virginia is a threat to win the ACC again despite the departure of Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, while VCU is the clear-cut favorite to win the Atlantic 10.

14. Ohio State at Louisville, Dec. 2: Ohio State lost Aaron Craft, Lenzelle Smith and LaQuinton Ross from a team that struggled to score for long stretches, but Thad Matta is hopeful some new additions will help the Buckeyes improve on offense. Freshman D'Angelo Russell is a big-time scoring wing and Temple transfer Anthony Lee averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 boards last season. Fun matchup to watch? Louisville shooting guard Terry Rozier, an Ohio native, will probably spend plenty of time defending Russell, who was raised in Louisville.

15. Kentucky vs. UCLA, Dec. 20 (CBS Sports Classic in Chicago): These two blue bloods have combined to win 19 national championships, but only the Wildcats are a threat to add to their haul this season. Thanks to the early departures of Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine, UCLA has only nine scholarship players, three scholarship guards and no true point guard. The Bruins' young frontcourt is very promising, but the lack of depth and the over-reliance on freshmen gives UCLA plenty of bust potential too.  

16. SMU at Gonzaga, Nov. 17: How good is Larry Brown's team? This should be an ideal early litmus test. SMU appeared to have dark horse Final Four potential before top prospect Emmanuel Mudiay opted to skip college and big man Markus Kennedy encountered potential academic issues. The return of standout guard Nic Moore and the breakout potential of former top 30 recruit Keith Frazier and a healthy Yanick Moreira offer reason for optimism, but the Mustangs really need Kennedy to take care of business in the classroom.

17. Ohio State vs. North Carolina, Dec. 20 (CBS Sports Classic in Chicago): This will be a nice test for both the Tar Heels and Buckeyes as they approach the start of conference play. All-American candidate Marcus Paige will have the chance to prove himself against an Ohio State perimeter defense that traditionally has been among the nation's best the past few years but won't have Aaron Craft to lead it this season.

18. VCU vs. Villanova, Nov. 24 (Legend's Classic in Brooklyn): Guards, guards and more guards. In what promises to be a fun, fast-paced game, VCU will hope its swarming, full-court press spearheaded by quick-handed Briante Weber will disrupt a perimeter-oriented Villanova team led by steady point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and high-scoring Darrun Hilliard. The winner will face the winner of the other semifinal between Michigan and Oregon.  

19. Harvard at Virginia, Dec. 21: Though Harvard's non-conference schedule features other tests against the likes of Boston College, Arizona State and UMass, this is clearly the Crimson's best regular season chance to make a name for themselves and prove they're worthy of a potential high seed in March. Harvard returns standouts Siyani Chambers, Wesley Saunders and Kenyatta Smith, all of whom were part of teams that have won the Ivy League title and NCAA tournament games both of the past two years.

20. Oklahoma vs. UCLA, Nov. 26 (Battle 4 Atlantis): This opening-round game of the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis tournament is a huge show-me game for both the Sooners and Bruins. A win all but guarantees a crack at North Carolina in the semifinals and potentially a chance to face Wisconsin or Florida on day three. A loss likely means facing Butler in the consolation bracket, squandering some of the strength of schedule boost this event should provide.

21. Louisville vs. Minnesota, Nov. 14 (Puerto Rico): Father challenges son when Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals square off against Richard Pitino's Minnesota Golden Gophers in the season opener for both teams. Quipped the elder Pitino to the Louisville Courier-Journal recently, "He wanted to play us because he thought he could beat us. That was before [All-ACC forward Montrezl] Harrell came back."

22. Syracuse at Villanova, Dec. 20: This is the second matchup in a three-game series between the former Big East rivals. Syracuse won at the Carrier Dome 78-61 last year, but the Orange won't resemble that team this year. C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis — three of Syracuse's four leading scorers last season — all left for the NBA, forcing the Orange to rely heavily on veteran Trevor Cooney and freshmen Kaleb Joseph and Chris McCullough this year.

23. Wichita State at Utah, Dec. 3: This may be the toughest test Wichita State faces as it seeks to duplicate last year's remarkable unbeaten regular season. Every key player besides Princeton Onwas is back for Utah from a team that was NCAA tournament-caliber by the end of the season but just didn't play a strong enough non-league schedule to make it. The battle of point guards between All-American candidates Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet will be especially fun. 

24. Utah at San Diego State, Nov. 18: One of the under-the-radar tip-off marathon games pits a San Diego State program that has established itself as one of the best teams in the West against a Utah program seeking to reclaim that status this year. This could be the best Utes team since the Rick Majerus era, but they'll be an underdog on the road against the Aztecs. San Diego State returns all but two rotation players from last season's 31-win Sweet 16 team and adds maybe the best recruiting class in school history, but this will be the first true test of how the Aztecs replace Xavier Thames' scoring and leadership.

25. Arizona at UNLV, Dec. 21: With all five starters having departed from last year's chaotic, underachieving season, UNLV will build anew around three decorated freshmen and a fifth-year senior point guard who transferred from San Francisco. Too many newcomers and not enough continuity is typically a recipe for early-season struggles, but the Rebels may begin to put it together by the time Arizona visits in late December.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 23, 2014, 5:19 pm

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

An Auburn professor received an assist from basketball Bruce Pearl this week while lecturing his class about marketing and branding. Pearl crashed the lecture with players, cheerleaders and the marching band in tow to promote next week's "Pearl Jam," Auburn's cleverly named Midnight Madness event. The appearance from Pearl served two valuable purposes: It provided a first-hand illustration of marketing and branding for the class and it generated buzz on campus and via social media for the basketball program. Auburn has a chance to be competitive in the SEC this season thanks to the return of K.T. Harrell and the arrival of Niagara transfer Antoine Mason and junior college prospect Cinmeon Bowers, but it's next year that the Tigers will probably truly arrive. Between Pearl's recruiting and his showmanship, Auburn basketball will be fun to watch going forward, and really when was the last time anyone could say that?

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'
Bill Self recreates Andrew Wiggins' infamous draft day outfit
Clemson student sinks $25,000 half-court shot
Costume-clad Tubby Smith crashes motorcycle
Drake's appearance at Kentucky includes cringe-worthy air ball
Mercer's Ike Nwamu leaps over teammate, throws down big dunk
New Mexico coach shaves his head for a good cause
Memphis guard throws down off-the-glass, between-the-legs slam
Fresno State guard sinks five straight half-court shots
• Bruce Pearl crashes a lecture to promote Auburn's Midnight Madness

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 23, 2014, 4:11 pm

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

Fresno State guard Cezar Guerrero shot a modest 34.5 percent from behind the arc last season. Perhaps his problem was he just wasn't shooting from far enough away from the rim. Guerrero showed off his long-range prowess Tuesday when he sank five consecutive half-court shots during Fresno State's annual “Red and White Hoops Night.”  It's a sure sign the 6-foot-1 former Oklahoma State transfer probably ought to have the ball in his hands if the Bulldogs ever need a last-second heave this season. Guerrero averaged 13.1 points and 3.5 assists per game in his first season at Fresno State. He'll play a key role again this season for a Bulldogs team expected to challenge for an upper division finish in the Mountain West.

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'
Bill Self recreates Andrew Wiggins' infamous draft day outfit
Clemson student sinks $25,000 half-court shot
Costume-clad Tubby Smith crashes motorcycle
Drake's appearance at Kentucky includes cringe-worthy air ball
Mercer's Ike Nwamu leaps over teammate, throws down big dunk
New Mexico coach shaves his head for a good cause
Memphis guard throws down off-the-glass, between-the-legs slam
Fresno State guard sinks five straight half-court shots

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 23, 2014, 2:57 am
Chris Holtmann took over as Butler's interim coach earlier this month. (Getty Images)

At the end of a 14-hour day scouting prospects at a grassroots tournament in Augusta, Ga., a friend of Chris Holtmann blindsided him with a question he hadn't expected.

Newly hired Butler coach Brandon Miller invited Holtmann to a late-night meal that night in July 2013 to gauge his interest in leaving his head coaching job at Gardner-Webb for an assistant coaching position with the Bulldogs.

More from Yahoo Sports' 2014-15 Season Preview:
Oct. 3: Eight key questions as practice begins
Oct. 6Preseason Top 25 with best-case and worst-case scenarios
Oct. 7: WCC Preview: Newcomers may tighten Gonzaga's grip on the league
Oct. 8: To become a more well-rounded player, Kyle Wiltjer changed his body and his game
Oct. 9: Ranking the 15 transfers who can make the biggest impact
Oct. 10: A-10 Preview: As VCU ascends, much of the league rebuilds
Oct. 13: Atoning for last March's costly gaffe drives VCU's JeQuan Lewis.
Oct. 14: Ten freshmen who will make the biggest impact
• Oct. 15: Mountain West Preview: Who will emerge to challenge San Diego State?
• Oct. 16:
Cody Doolin could be the ideal antidote to what has ailed UNLV
• Oct. 20: Ten coaches under the most pressure to win this season
• Oct. 21: Big East Preview: To raise its stature, the league needs a big March

The job offer immediately left Holtman torn. He had formed great friendships the past three years while transforming Gardner-Webb from a laughingstock into a winning program, but the reigning Big South coach of the year didn't view his current position as a destination job. Therefore his choice came down to whether the better springboard to a higher-profile head coaching position was helping tradition-rich Butler make a successful transition to the Big East or trying to parlay sustained success at Gardner-Webb into an attention-grabbing NCAA tournament run.

"Hardest professional decision of my life, and it's not even close," Holtmann said. "What made it difficult to leave Gardner-Webb was the people I worked around, the people I worked for and certainly our players. But Butler is Butler. It's a program on a national stage. Ultimately, I just felt like Butler was an opportunity that would give me a chance to be a head coach again, and that's why I took it."

Choosing to leave Gardner-Webb for Butler last year indeed set Holtmann on a course to land the high-profile head coaching job he craved — just not how he ever would have wanted or expected. When Miller took a leave of absence for undisclosed medical reasons earlier this month, Butler athletic director Barry Collier asked Holtmann to serve as the interim replacement.

It's unclear how long Holtmann's new role will last, but nobody at Butler is behaving as though they expect Miller back on the bench anytime soon. Last week, Holtmann filled his former position by promoting graduate assistant Emerson Kampen to assistant coach and plucked another former Butler player, Brandon Crone, from Division II Nova Southeastern to serve as director of basketball operations.

Holtmann's bittersweet promotion comes at a critical time for the Butler program. In its first season after ultra-successful coach Brad Stevens left for the Boston Celtics, Butler lost star forward Roosevelt Jones to torn ligaments in his wrist in August, struggled with the transition to the Big East and finished with a losing overall record for just the second time in two decades. Now there's pressure on Holtmann and his team to show that last season's woes were an aberration and not the new reality for a program that reached back-to-back national title games in 2010 and 2011.

"I think what I feel most is a great sense of responsibility to be a really good steward in whatever days I have in this role," Holtmann said. "I feel that responsibility because I've followed Butler and I know the amount of work it took to get this program where it is and the amount of quality people that have played and coached in this program. Certainly 4-14 in the Big East and 14-17 overall is not what any of us want, but we knew there would be some difficult moments during this transition and we expect to make progress going forward."

If Butler fans are worried about entrusting such an important season to a new coach, those who have previously worked with Holtmann say they shouldn't be.

Illinois coach John Groce played with Holtmann at NAIA Taylor University in the early 1990s and hired him as an assistant at Ohio University in 2008. Groce has mixed emotions about the situation at Butler because he has also coached alongside Miller at three previous jobs, but he is confident Holtmann will excel even under difficult circumstances.

"Anytime you're an interim coach there are challenges, but the one thing about Chris is he's competitive enough, sharp enough and tough enough to handle it," Groce said. "When Chris and I played together in college, he was a great competitor, a hard worker and he had a great understanding and feel for the game. A lot of those attributes and characteristics he had then as a player, he has those same things now as a coach."

Holtmann's passion for basketball is a product of growing up in Nicholasville, Ky., a rapidly growing town on the outskirts of hoops-crazed Lexington. As a kid, basketball was the only sport he played, the only sport he followed and the only sport he cared about.

That laser focus on basketball helped Holtmann earn All-American honors as a senior at Taylor after leading the Indiana school to a 29-5 record, a No. 1 national ranking and a spot in the NAIA National Tournament. Holtmann intended to use his psychology degree to become a high school teacher and part-time coach after he graduated, but one year away from the college game made him quickly reconsider.

"Boy did I miss it," Holtmann said."My college coach used to say, 'If you're not doing something that grabs your guts, that jumps you of bed in the morning, then you should find a different profession.' For me, as soon as I started coaching, it was that. It grabs my guts. It encompasses everything about who I am and who I want to be. I can't wait to roll out of bed and get started with this job. It can be a maddening job, but it's really fulfilling too."

Holtmann gradually ascended in the coaching industry after deciding to pursue it full time, rising from graduate assistant at his alma mater, to assistant coaching jobs first at the NAIA level and later at Gardner-Webb and Ohio. He was so confident he'd remain at Ohio for a long time under Groce that he and his wife bought a house in Athens, but that abruptly changed when Gardner-Webb athletic director Chuck Burch asked him to interview for the school's head coaching position in 2010.

Though Burch was already familiar with Holtmann from his first stint at Gardner-Webb as an assistant, the coach still found a way to separate himself from the three other candidates during his interview. Holtmann brought with him the scouting report he had prepared on Georgetown just a few weeks earlier when Ohio upset the third-seeded Hoyas in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

"He popped that in front of everyone in the room and he showed how he would prepare for an opponent," Burch said. "It made an impression on everyone in that room. They saw what they would get if they gave him the job — a guy that would have his teams thoroughly prepared and ready to go."

If detailed scouting reports were Holtmann's hallmarks as an assistant coach, he showed he was a well-rounded leader during his three-year stint at Gardner Webb.

He developed a strong bond with players by having them over for cookouts and by displaying excellent communication skills in the locker room. He brought increased intensity to practices and offseason workouts and got his players to invest at a level they hadn't previously. He showed shrewd talent evaluation and a tireless work ethic on the recruiting trail as he sought to replenish a threadbare roster. And he used his trademark enthusiasm to garner enough support from students and alumni that they even started a group in his honor called the "Holtmaniacs."

That combination of traits helped Holtmann rejuvenate a cash-strapped Gardner-Webb program that had won just eight games the year before he arrived. By his third season, Gardner-Webb went 21-13, finished second in the Big South and made an appearance in the CIT tournament, by far the school's most successful season since it joined Division I in 2002.

Between the relationships he built at Gardner-Webb and the numerous players due back from that 21-win team, it's no wonder Holtmann agonized over the decision to leave for Butler last year. Saying goodbye to Burch was difficult, but informing his Gardner-Webb players was so difficult that Holtmann could hardly get the words out.

"I think he stood in front of them for four minutes and didn't say a word," Burch said. "It was very emotional for him. It was very hard for him to do that, but I think at the end of the day he felt like it was going to prepare him professionally to get to that next level. It's a calculated risk, but I understood why he made that move. I knew Chris wasn't going to retire at Gardner-Webb. I knew he had aspirations to coach at a higher level."

The opportunity to be a head coach at that higher level has arrived, albeit in a way Holtmann never anticipated. For the past few weeks, he has done his best to ease the transition for his players and to quell the fears of Butler fans while being as respectful to Miller as possible.

Holtmann says the opportunity to serve as Butler's interim coach doesn't validate his decision to leave Gardner-Webb, nor has he really had time to reflect on what a successful year could do for his career. Having taken over the program on the eve of the first practice of the season, there simply hasn't been time for that.

"The biggest feeling I have is concern for a friend and hoping and praying he gets healthy," Holtmann said. "Beyond that, I don't know if I'm certain yet on my feelings on all this. I've slept less. I already had a lot gray hairs and now I have more gray. But in terms of processing what it all means or how I feel about it, it has been such a whirlwind that I think it hasn't allowed me to think a whole lot."

For Holtmann, time to reflect will come later. Right now, it's all about making sure the Butler program stays afloat during this period of transition.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 22, 2014, 4:42 pm

For a coach who hasn't made either the NCAA tournament or an NIT entering his fourth season at a major-conference program, Texas A&M's Billy Kennedy has remarkable job security.

The Aggies coach has assembled such a terrific 2015 recruiting class that it seems unfathomable Texas A&M would jeopardize it by firing Kennedy no matter how things go on the floor this season.

Kennedy received his fourth commitment from a top 75 prospect Tuesday when power forward Elijah Thomas announced he will attend Texas A&M. Thomas, Rivals.com's No. 20 prospect, chose the Aggies over LSU, SMU, Oklahoma State and Illinois.

The 6-foot-9 Texas native joins a class that already includes 6-foot-10 big man Tyler Davis (No. 27), 6-foot-8 forward  D.J. Hogg (No. 32) and 6-foot-3 guard Admon Gilder (No. 65). Together, that quartet forms a 2015 class that could rival Arizona and Duke for the nation's best.

All the recruiting success comes at a critical time for Kennedy. He signed a two-year contract extension with Texas A&M last month, but faith in him among the Aggies fan base had wavered as a result of a lack of success on the floor and substantial roster attrition over the past 12 months.

Highly touted guard J-Mychal Reese was dismissed from the team early last season. Then leading scorer Jamal Jones and part-time starter Shawn Smith announced they intended to transfer. Perhaps feeling pressure to have a breakthrough on the court or the recruiting trail, Kennedy revamped his staff this offseason, dismissing Glynn Cyprien and adding ex-Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury as an assistant.

Stansbury, by all accounts, has played a critical role in Texas A&M's recruiting success. The commitment from Thomas was especially impressive considering he once had dropped the Aggies from his list and there are questions about whether he and Davis can play effectively together since both are most comfortable within eight feet of the rim.

The most likely scenario would be Thomas playing in the high post when the two are together on the floor. Though Thomas is most effective overpowering opponents on the low block with his array of jump hooks and power moves, he also has enough passing ability and face-up game to make an impact from the elbow. The concern would be defensively since the slow-footed Thomas' conditioning has long been an issue and he would likely struggle to defend smaller, quicker opposing combo forwards who are comfortable on the perimeter. 

Regardless, too many big men is a nice problem to have for a Texas A&M program that hasn't had enough talent during most of Kennedy's tenure.

There's a chance Kennedy might enjoy a breakthrough season this year with four starters back, transfer Jalen Jones (SMU) eligible right away and Danuel House (Houston) petitioning for a waiver. Nonetheless, even if Kennedy doesn't win this season, the recruiting class he is assembling offers hope that he'll get things turned around sooner than later.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 21, 2014, 8:00 pm

Yahoo Sports will break down the top 10 leagues for the upcoming college basketball season working backward from No. 10 to No. 1. Here's a look at our No. 7 league, the Big East.

In its debut season, the new Big East produced a formidable top 10 team in Villanova, the national player of the year in Creighton's Doug McDermott and a charming underdog story in Providence.

All that was missing was some success in March.

All four Big East teams that made the NCAA tournament failed to advance to the second weekend as Xavier fell in the play-in round to NC State, Providence lost to North Carolina in the round of 64 and both Creighton and Villanova endured upsets in the round of 32. The third-seeded Bluejays were run off the floor by Baylor in McDermott's final collegiate game and the a late surge by eventual national champion UConn toppled the Wildcats.

The team with the best chance of delivering the deep NCAA tournament run the Big East so badly needs this season is Villanova, which enters the season as the well-established favorite to defend its regular season title from a year ago. The Wildcats return four starters from a team that won 29 games last year and add a couple of promising freshmen.

Between ultra-efficient Big East player of the year candidate Darrun Hilliard, breakout threat Josh Hart, top freshman Phil Booth and former Rice transfer Dylan Ennis, Villanova shouldn't have much trouble absorbing the loss of last year's leading scorer James Bell at wing. That group and hard-nosed junior point guard Ryan Arcidiacono form a skilled backourt worthy of Villanova's reputation for producing guards.

The bigger concern for the Wildcats is a lack of frontcourt depth. Forward JayVaughn Pinkston should remain one of the Big East's premier interior scorers, but 6-foot-11 starting center Daniel Ochefu is the only true big man on the roster. If Ochefu gets in foul trouble or injuries strike, Villanova will need 6-foot-6 sophomore Kris Jenkins or 6-foot-8 Darryl Reynolds to step up.

There's no clear-cut top challenger to Villanova this season in the Big East's second tier, but a handful of teams are capable of emerging in that role.

Georgetown could evolve into a potential Top 25 team if it can find enough scorers to complement Big East player of the year candidate D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Guard Jabril Trawick finished strong last season after recovering from a broken jaw. Immensely talented but seldom consistent Josh Smith should provide an interior focal point as long as the former UCLA transfer is in good enough shape to run the floor 20-25 minutes per game. 

St. John's might be the most talented team in the Big East, but it's always difficult to predict whether Steve Lavin will be able to harness that talent to form a cohesive team. D'Angelo Harrison and Rysheed Jordan could form the Big East's most dynamic backcourt if the high-scoring Harrison can improve his dismal 38 percent shooting and the ultra-talented Jordan can become a more reliable perimeter shooter and can cut back his turnovers. The frontcourt is a concern, but the return of Chris Obekpa gives the Johnnies an imposing defensive presence in the middle.

Xavier has a chance to contend if freshman Trevon Bluiett and Indiana transfer Remy Abell provide some perimeter scoring to complement big man Matt Stainbrook and make up for the loss of leading scorer Semaj Christon. Providence could also be a threat if Kris Dunn can finally stay healthy enough to shore up the point guard position and help out returning standouts LaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris. Heck, even under-the-radar Marquette has NCAA tournament potential if the addition of BYU transfer Matt Carlino and redshirt freshman Duane Wilson gives its backcourt much-needed firepower.

Throw in a Butler team that gets Roosevelt Jones back and a Seton Hall team adding the league's best recruiting class, and there are as many as eight teams who enter the season with realistic NCAA tournament hopes.

What the Big East needs is for Villanova to be as good as advertised, for a couple challengers to emerge and above all else, for the league to have the March success that proved elusive last season. 

MAKING A LIST

More from Yahoo Sports' 2014-15 Season Preview:
Oct. 3: Eight key questions as practice begins
Oct. 6Preseason Top 25 with best-case and worst-case scenarios
Oct. 7: WCC Preview: Newcomers may tighten Gonzaga's grip on the league
Oct. 8: To become a more well-rounded player, Kyle Wiltjer changed his body and his game
Oct. 9: Ranking the 15 transfers who can make the biggest impact
Oct. 10: A-10 Preview: As VCU ascends, much of the league rebuilds
Oct. 13: Atoning for last March's costly gaffe drives VCU's JeQuan Lewis.
Oct. 14: Ten freshmen who will make the biggest impact
• Oct. 15: Mountain West Preview: Who will emerge to challenge San Diego State?
• Oct. 16:
Cody Doolin could be the ideal antidote to what has ailed UNLV
• Oct. 20: Ten coaches under the most pressure to win this season
• Oct. 21: Big East Preview: To raise its stature, the league needs a big March

Best shooter: Darrun Hilliard, Villanova. Timid and unsure of himself as a freshman, Hilliard rolled up his sleeves and went to work to make himself into a better shooter and a more well-rounded player. The result was steady improvement as a sophomore and a colossal upsurge last season when Hilliard averaged 14.3 points per game and shot 48.6 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from behind the arc. Hilliard should have every chance to meet or exceed those numbers this season with James Bell having graduated and Villanova leaning even more on him for perimeter scoring.
Best playmaker: Dee Davis, Xavier. The steady senior point guard has been a fixture in Xavier's starting lineup the past two years despite never averaging more than 8.2 points per game. The reason is Davis takes care of the ball, sinks timely jump shots, defends the opposing team's top scoring guard and finds teammates for easy baskets. Davis averaged 4.7 assists per game last season, the second most in the Big East behind graduated Providence star Bryce Cotton.
Best defender: Chris Obekpa, St. John's. Only a couple weeks after announcing he intended to transfer last April, Obekpa had a change of heart. The 6-foot-9 center decided returning to St. John's was his best option, a fortunate break for a Johnnies program that couldn't afford to lose him with Orlando Sanchez graduating and JaKarr Sampson turning pro. Obekpa's playing time evaporated late last season because he's not much of a scoring threat, but the premier shot blocker still averaged a ridiculous 6.83 blocks per 40 minutes.
Top NBA prospect: Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall. The centerpiece of Seton Hall's best recruiting class in years is a 6-foot-4 combo guard ranked No. 16 in Rivals.com's Class of 2014 ratings. Whitehead will inherit Seton Hall's starting shooting guard position from Fuquan Edwin and should pile up the points right away thanks to his ability to score off the dribble or via pull-up jumpers. He isn't the most consistent player and he sometimes takes ill-advised shots, but the Pirates will have to live with that because they need his offense after losing three of last year's four top scorers.
Best backcourt:
Villanova. Just like previous top-notch Villanova teams, the Wildcats will be driven by their guards. Ryan Arcidiacono will never be an elite shooter at point guard, but the junior continued to make an impact with his hustle and clutch buckets while increasing his shooting percentage and lowering his turnover numbers. And at wing, Villanova boasts a wealth of options despite the graduation of leading scorer James Bell. Sharpshooting Darrun Hilliard is a Big East player of the year threat if he builds on his rapid improvement from last season, while sophomore Josh Hart should get the first crack at the vacant starting spot. Freshman Phil Booth and former Rice transfer Dylan Ennis also should contribute. 
Best frontcourt: Providence. If one key for the Friars is former McDonald's All-American Kris Dunn finally staying healthy at point guard, the other is the Friars' frontcourt performing up to expectation. Versatile 6-foot-6 forward LaDontae Henton should inherit the role of go-to scorer from Cotton after a season in which he averaged 14.3 points per game and finished second in the Big East in rebounding at 7.8 per game. Six-foot-9 double-double threat Tyler Harris can score at all three levels and has worked hard all offseason to evolve from an X-factor into a big man who can be counted on to produce consistently. Veteran Carson Derosiers and freshman Ben Bentil should provide frontcourt depth.
Best recruiting class: Seton Hall. Though five-star wing Isaiah Whitehead is the most decorated member of Seton Hall's banner 2014 class, there are several other potential impact players. Dominican native Angel Delgado is a late-blooming 6-foot-8 forward who emerged as a consensus top 75 prospect due to his incredible rebounding ability. Undersized power forward Desi Rodriguez is an undersized but athletic power forward who needs to develop an outside shot to go with his interior game, while shooting guard Khadeen Carrington is a scorer who's most effective attacking the rim.
Coach on the rise: Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette. Even though Wojciechowski has yet to coach a game at Marquette and likely lacks the frontcourt talent to achieve much in his first season, the former Duke assistant still has planted seeds for future success. He has landed a star-studded 2015 recruiting class highlighted by consensus five-star power forward Henry Ellenson and three other Rivals 150 recruits. That class should help Wojciechowski reinvigorate a Marquette program that endured a rare down season in Buzz Williams' final year. Marquette went 17-15 last season, terminating the program's eight-year streak of making the NCAA tournament.
Coach on the hot seat:
Oliver Purnell, DePaul. DePaul has shown patience with Purnell so far, but it has to be running out. In the four years since he left Clemson to try to resuscitate the Blue Demons program, Purnell has a 9-57 record in Big East play and has never finished better than a tie for last in the league. Last year, DePaul started 13 different players on its way to a 12-21 finish as leading scorer Cleveland Melvin left school after getting suspended and top freshman Billy Garrett Jr. battled health issues. Purnell desperately needs to show progress this season, but any resurgence will likely be because of Garrett and a wave of newcomers from the junior college ranks. 

FACTS AND FIGURES

New coaches:Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette; Chris Holtmann, Butler (Interim)
Regular-season winner last season:Villanova
Tourney winner last season:Providence
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2013-14: 4th, 3rd: 1st, 2011-12: 2nd
NCAA bids the past three years: 21 (Villanova 2, Georgetown 2, Marquette 2, Syracuse 2, Louisville 2, Cincinnati 2, Notre Dame 2, UConn, Pittsburgh, Providence, Creighton, Xavier, West Virginia, South Florida)

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 21, 2014, 3:57 pm

The old saying is that respect isn't given, it's earned.

Saint Louis has done more than enough to earn respect after winning 55 games and back-to-back Atlantic 10 titles the last two seasons, but the Billikens aren't receiving much heading into the new season. They're projected ninth in the league's preseason poll after all five of last year's starters graduated, not that coach Jim Crews is very concerned about the opinions of outsiders.

“Whose expectations are they?” Crews said.

“We’ve never put stock on any of that. I’m sure we were picked higher than that last year, but I don’t think we’ve ever been favored to win the league. That’s just all part of the hoopla of the whole thing and we appreciate it, but we don’t pay any attention to that. Pick us low, high, it doesn’t make any difference. It’s just totally irrelevant.”

The reason for the drastic drop in expectations from outside the program is that the Billikens lost more than 75 percent of their scoring from last season, including 2013-14 Conference Player of the Year Jordair Jett and All A-10 First Team selection Dwayne Evans. Saint Louis’ current roster features not a single double-digit scorer and just four upperclassmen, including Villanova transfer Achraf Yacoubou, who sat out last year per NCAA rules.

“We don’t want to replace them,” Crews said. “We don’t want to replace Jordair Jett because there is only one Jordair Jett, Dwayne Evans or Rob Loe, whichever name you want to pick. What we’ve got to be able to do is take the names of the guys we have now and their basketball talents and maximize what they can do, minimize what they can’t do and get them to understand what their teammates can do.”

Perhaps one reason there's a sense of calm from Crews is because he believes in the replacements for his departed stars. 

The player most likely to emerge as a go-to scoring threat for the Billikens is 5-foot-9 point guard Austin McBroom, who averaged 7.3 points and dished out 56 assists last year as the first guard off the bench. Seniors John Manning and Grandy Glaze will be counted on for leadership, defense and rebounding and some timely interior scoring. And a six-member freshman class highlighted by combo guard Myles Reynolds will need to make an immediate impact.

“One of the things our guys have done a tremendous job of is just keeping it simple, I mean boringly simple,” Crews said. “They don’t worry about tomorrow until midnight, yesterday could have been good, yesterday could have been bad, but we don’t get carried away with it one way or the other. They are kind of stealth with their emotions and that has helped us with our consistency.”

Even if the Saint Louis program faces a down year while it rebuilds, Crews vows to keep the ship afloat and on course to creating another perennial contender.

“What we try and do is build a mentality," Crews said. "There is nothing more important than the attitude you bring.

“The number one thing is to be a good teammate, help the program. We don’t sacrifice those things and that gives us a chance. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, it’s happened the past couple of years, but it gives us a chance.”

Author: Anthony Sulla-Heffinger
Posted: October 21, 2014, 1:41 pm
Memphis forward Chris Hawkins throws it down in style. (Video credit: Memphis basketball)

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

Memphis didn't have a formal dunk contest at its Midnight Madness event this year, but there's little doubt who would have won if the Tigers had kept score. Chris Hawkins, a 6-foot-6 forward from Southwest Tennessee Community College, threw the ball off the glass to himself, caught it in mid air and went between the legs in one motion before finishing with a smooth one-handed dunk. The dunk wasn't the only sign that Hawkins might be able to make an immediate impact for the Tigers. The undersized forward showed a toughness Memphis has sometimes lacked in previous years on the team's foreign tour of Canada this summer, averaging 13.3 points per game during the three-game trip. Injuries slowed Hawkins in junior college but he flashed promise at Sun Prairie High School in Wisconsin. He averaged 17.3 points and 10.5 rebounds his senior season, leading his team to an appearance in the section finals.

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'
Bill Self recreates Andrew Wiggins' infamous draft day outfit
Clemson student sinks $25,000 half-court shot
Costume-clad Tubby Smith crashes motorcycle
Drake's appearance at Kentucky includes cringe-worthy air ball
Mercer's Ike Nwamu leaps over teammate, throws down big dunk
New Mexico coach shaves his head for a good cause
• Memphis guard throws down off-the-glass, between-the-legs slam

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 20, 2014, 7:22 pm

Our 2014-15 season preview continues with the Dagger's look at 10 coaches under the most pressure to win. Check back every day for more college hoops preview content.

Dana Altman, Oregon

Why the pressure is on: Unlike the other coaches on this list, Altman is not under pressure for his win-loss record. The Oregon coach has taken the Ducks to the NCAA tournament both of the past two seasons and to the Sweet 16 in 2013, but he has come under fire this offseason as a result of a slew of off-the-court issues. Of course, the most egregious was the rape accusations against former Ducks Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson and Brandon Austin. Altman drew intense criticism for signing Austin despite previous allegations of sexual assault while he was at Providence and for playing Artis and Dotson in the NCAA tournament even while they were under investigation by the police. No charges were filed in the case, but all three were dismissed from school in June. Between that, several other Oregon players transferring and two top recruits not being admitted to school, Oregon has a paper-thin roster this season and little proven returning talent besides Pac-12 player of the year candidate Joseph Young. Nonetheless, a losing season isn't what could jeopardize Altman's job. More off-the-court issues, however, certainly could.

More from Yahoo Sports' 2014-15 Season Preview:
Oct. 3: Eight key questions as practice begins
Oct. 6Preseason Top 25 with best-case and worst-case scenarios
Oct. 7: WCC Preview: Newcomers may tighten Gonzaga's grip on the league
Oct. 8: To become a more well-rounded player, Kyle Wiltjer changed his body and his game
Oct. 9: Ranking the 15 transfers who can make the biggest impact
Oct. 10: A-10 Preview: As VCU ascends, much of the league rebuilds
Oct. 13: Atoning for last March's costly gaffe drives VCU's JeQuan Lewis.
Oct. 14: Ten freshmen who will make the biggest impact
• Oct. 15: Mountain West Preview: Who will emerge to challenge San Diego State?
• Oct. 16:
Cody Doolin could be the ideal antidote to what has ailed UNLV
• Oct. 20: Ten coaches under the most pressure to win this season

Travis Ford, Oklahoma State

Why the pressure is on: At the end of a tumultuous 2013-14 season that began with Oklahoma State ranked in the top 10 and ended with a sub-.500 Big 12 record and zero NCAA tournament wins, athletic director Mike Holder gave a revealing interview to the Oklahoman. Asked about the 10-year contract extension Ford signed in Sept. 2009, Holder acknowledged, “In retrospect, it wasn’t good for him or us." Holder wouldn't say that what saved Ford's job was the $11.85 million in buyout money Oklahoma State would owe him if it fired him, but the athletic director didn't deny it either. “Who knows? You can hypothetical yourself to death,” Holder said. It's easy to understand Holder's frustration given Ford's underachieving track record. In six seasons at Oklahoma State — the last two with lottery pick Marcus Smart and a talented supporting cast — Ford has produced a 52-50 Big 12 record and just one NCAA tournament victory. Now Smart is a Boston Celtic, Markel Brown, Brian Williams and Kamari Murphy have also departed and the Cowboys no longer appear talented enough to finish in the upper half of the Big 12. Ford's hefty buyout may save his job another year regardless, but a surprise NCAA tournament bid this season would go a long way toward winning back Cowboys fans and his athletic director.

Anthony Grant, Alabama

Why the pressure is on: One day after Alabama fell to LSU in the opening round of the SEC tournament to conclude its first losing season in 14 years, athletic director Bill Battle penned a blog post expressing support for Grant. "This is a program that is not adrift, and is not devoid of leadership and talent," Battle wrote. "I believe this is a program that has better days ahead." Between lingering disappointment over last year's 19-loss season and the arrival of Bruce Pearl raising rival Auburn's stature, Grant needs those "better days" to come sooner rather than later. Therefore he must hope that the return of four starters and the addition of high-scoring Tulane transfer Ricky Tarrant and top recruit Justin Coleman can propel Alabama back to the upper half of the SEC. Grant has a contract through 2019 and has made the NCAA tournament as recently as 2012, but it's important for him to show that last season was an aberration rather than the start of a downward spiral. Otherwise, with Pearl showing what a football school can do with the right basketball coach, it's possible that Battle's support may begin to waver.

Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech

Why the pressure is on: For a program with strong pedigree, a newly renovated arena and an enviable recruiting base, Georgia Tech has been stunningly irrelevant recently. Not only have the Yellowjackets finished in the ACC's bottom four each of the past four years, they haven't gone above .500 in ACC play since 2004 when they appeared in the national title game. The last three seasons under Gregory have been particularly awful as the former Dayton coach has attempted to rebuild. Gregory is a combined 16-36 in ACC play, a run of mediocrity capped by an injury-plagued 2013-14 season made worse by the transfer of top big man Robert Carter this past spring. For Gregory to keep his job beyond this season, he probably has to show the sort of progress that has been elusive the past two years. The return of guard Marcus Georges-Hunt offers hope, as does the arrival of promising freshman combo guard Tadric Jackson and the eligibility of transfers Charles Mitchell (Maryland) and Robert Sampson (East Carolina). 

Paul Hewitt, George Mason

Why the pressure is on: When Hewitt arrived at George Mason three years ago, he was confident he'd thrive at the mid-major power. "There's only one thing left for me to do in college basketball, and that's try to win a national championship," he said in Oct. 2011. "I feel like we can do that here." Not only has Hewitt not come close to achieving that goal so far, George Mason has slid further from national relevance each year of his tenure. The Patriots have yet to make either the NCAA tournament or NIT under Hewitt, finished a disappointing 11-20 in their Atlantic 10 debut last season and return just 44.1 percent of their scoring this year. Georgia Tech parted ways with Hewitt in 2011 because a series of strong recruiting classes never seemed to improve much during their time in the program. A lack of development again has been an issue at George Mason, but Hewitt hasn't been able to lure even close to the same caliber of recruits, not a great sign for a coach who may be shown the door if he doesn't show progress this season.

Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M

Why the pressure is on: Texas A&M officials will have an intriguing decision to make this spring if Kennedy doesn't take the Aggies to the postseason. This would be Kennedy's fourth season without either an NCAA or NIT bid at Texas A&M, yet cutting ties with him could jeopardize a recruiting class shaping up to be far and away the best of his tenure. Kennedy has received commitments from a trio of elite Class of 2015 prospects: center Tyler Davis (Rivals No. 27), forward D.J. Hogg (No. 32) and guard Admon Gilder (No. 65). He also is in pursuit of another top forward, 6-foot-9 Elijah Thomas. The recruiting success follows a period in which Kennedy endured criticism both for not winning enough and enduring substantial roster attrition. Highly touted guard J-Mychal Reese was dismissed from the team this past season. Then leading scorer Jamal Jones and part-time starter Shawn Smith announced they intended to transfer. Perhaps feeling pressure to have a breakthrough season this year, Kennedy revamped his staff this offseason, dismissing Glynn Cyprien and adding ex-Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury as an assistant. Between the staff changes, the two-year extension he signed a few weeks ago and the subsequent recruiting success, Kennedy probably will get a fifth year at Texas A&M. Still, it would make the decision easier for school officials if the Aggies take a step forward this year too. 

Tom Pecora, Fordham

Why the pressure is on: Nine years into a successful tenure at Hofstra, Pecora decided he wanted a new challenge. The New York native left for Fordham, one of the most difficult jobs in the country because the Rams play in the powerful Atlantic 10 yet still have facilities and resources better resembling a Patriot League team. It was no mystery the rebuilding process was going to be a grind, but there's no way Pecora could have guessed it would be this much of a struggle. Fordham has finished last in the Atlantic 10 in each of his four years and has amassed a 9-55 conference record during that stretch. For Pecora to keep his job, Fordham probably has to at least climb out of the Atlantic 10 basement this season and perhaps accomplish even more than that. The scoring prowess of former Rivals 150 recruit Jon Severe will help, as will the return of fellow guards Mandell Thomas and Bryan Smith. If Pecora could get some semblance of an interior attack to take some of the burden off his backcourt, it's possible the Rams could climb a rung or two in the Atlantic 10.

Oliver Purnell, DePaul

Why the pressure is on: The hire of Purnell received mixed reviews when DePaul made it back in 2010. On one hand, Purnell had a long history of revitalizing struggling programs at Old Dominion, Dayton and Clemson. On the other hand, Purnell had zero ties to the Chicago-area high school and AAU programs that he'd have to recruit to win with the Blue Demons. Barring an improbable turnaround this season, it appears the naysayers will probably be proven right. In four years at DePaul, Purnell has a 9-57 record in Big East play and has never finished better than a tie for last in the league. Last year, the Blue Demons started 13 different players on their way to a 12-21 finish as leading scorer Cleveland Melvin left school after getting suspended and top freshman Billy Garrett Jr. battled health issues. Any resurgence this year will likely be because of Garrett and a wave of newcomers from the junior college ranks. DePaul has shown patience with Purnell so far but he'll probably have to show progress this season to prevent that from running out.

Mark Turgeon, Maryland

Why the pressure is on: When Turgeon arrived at Maryland and hired a highly respected staff with longstanding ties to the talent-rich region, the consensus was he'd have the Terrapins back among the nation's elite programs before too long. Maryland indeed has recruited better under Turgeon than it did in the latter years under Gary Williams, but so far that hasn't translated into high-level success. In three seasons at Maryland, Turgeon never finished higher than seventh in the ACC and managed only one postseason appearance — a 2013 NIT bid. Throw in five transfers this offseason including heralded point guard Roddy Peters and returning starter Seth Allen, and Turgeon is starting to lose the faith of the Maryland fan base. There is room for optimism, however, as Turgeon has brought in another outstanding recruiting class highlighted by McDonald's All-American Romelo Trimble. It's unclear what Turgeon needs to do in Maryland's Big Ten debut to keep his job, but certainly a breakthrough season would go a long way toward easing the concerns of fans and sending the message to recruits that he'll be in College Park for the long haul.

Kevin Willard,  Seton Hall

Why the pressure is on: It took a strategy change on the recruiting trail for Willard to assemble his best recruiting class and guarantee himself a fifth season to try to turn things around at Seton Hall. In April 2013, Willard landed former Northwestern signee Jaren Sina just weeks after hiring the assistant who originally recruited the consensus top 100 guard to the Wildcats prior to Bill Carmody's firing. In August 2013, Willard nabbed top 75 power forward Angel Delgado at the same time as word broke that Seton Hall was hiring his assistant coach with the Dominican National team. And in September 2013 Willard paved the way for a commitment from five-star guard Isaiah Whitehead by agreeing to hire his high school coach. The upside to all the package deals is that they didn't break any NCAA rules and they provided Seton Hall with the talent to be competitive in the Big East. The downside is that they felt like a bit of an act of desperation from Willard and they leave him with a lot of pressure to parlay a replenished roster into more victories. Willard hasn't been to the NCAA tournament yet at Seton Hall and is coming off a 17-17 season. An NCAA bid may not be a must this year for Willard, but he probably needs to at least ascend in the Big East pecking order.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 20, 2014, 4:25 pm

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

With point guard Hugh Greenwood's mother in the midst of her second battle with breast cancer, New Mexico coach Craig Neal decided to do something in her honor.  He grew out his trademark flowing silver hair until it was shoulder length and then had his head shaved Friday night in front of a more than 7,000 fans at the Pit for this year's Lobo Howl. Neal will offer his hair to the "Locks of Love" program, which uses donated hair to make wigs for cancer patients. Greenwood did not shave his own long blonde hair for Locks of Love, but he too is doing his part to support his mom. He started the "Pink Pack," which gives New Mexico fans an opportunity to donate to support research, patient care and public outreach at the UNM Cancer Center.  

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'
Bill Self recreates Andrew Wiggins' infamous draft day outfit
Clemson student sinks $25,000 half-court shot
Costume-clad Tubby Smith crashes motorcycle
Drake's appearance at Kentucky includes cringe-worthy air ball
Mercer's Ike Nwamu leaps over teammate, throws down big dunk
New Mexico coach shaves his head for a good cause

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 18, 2014, 12:55 pm

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

No longer is merely clearing a teammate enough to drop jaws during a dunk contest. Credit Mercer guard Ike Nwamu for throwing in a clever twist. Nwamu easily captured first place in the Bears' Midnight Madness dunk contest Friday night when he leaped over 6-foot-1 teammate Jestin Lewis, grabbed the ball and threw down a between-the-legs dunk. The slam drew audible gasps from the fans in attendance and led the rest of Nwamu's teammates to come off the bench and celebrate with him. It also surely elicited a sigh of relief from Lewis. Mercer will need more highlights from Nwamu if it is going to return to the NCAA tournament this March, let alone pull off another memorable upset. All five starters graduated from last year's senior-laden team, but Nwamu is one of several role players from last season capable of taking on a bigger role.

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'
Bill Self recreates Andrew Wiggins' infamous draft day outfit
Clemson student sinks $25,000 half-court shot
Costume-clad Tubby Smith crashes motorcycle
Drake's appearance at Kentucky includes cringe-worthy air ball
Mercer's Ike Nwamu leaps over teammate, throws down big dunk

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 18, 2014, 5:23 am

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

Actually playing for Kentucky apparently wasn't necessary to participate in warmups prior to the Wildcats intrasquad scrimmage at Big Blue Madness on Friday night. Rapper drake donned Kentucky warmups and shot around with the team, amusingly missing one 18-foot jumper a few feet short and wide. Drake also introduced John Calipari, calling him one of the most important people in his life. Plenty of criticism for Drake has stemmed from his habit of associating himself with winning teams in every sport, but his ties to Kentucky run deeper than most. He coached one of the intrasquad teams at Big Blue Madness in 2009. He sat behind the bench during the NCAA tournament in 2010.  He invited Calipari and the entire Wildcats team on stage with him during a concert in Lexington a few years ago. He credited Calipari with inspiring him to finish high school.  And he received a 2012 national championship ring with the name "Drizzy" engraved in it. Having Drake join the shootaround may have been a bit much, but his annual presence at Big Blue Madness is a coup for Kentucky. For proof of that, here's elite power forward Carlton Bragg's photo with Drake and the tweets of two other top prospects lamenting not being in Lexington. 

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'
Bill Self recreates Andrew Wiggins' infamous draft day outfit
Clemson student sinks $25,000 half-court shot
Costume-clad Tubby Smith crashes motorcycle
Drake's appearance at Kentucky includes cringe-worthy air ball

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 18, 2014, 4:30 am

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

Since Midnight Madness entrances from coaches get more and more elaborate each year, it was probably only a matter of time before one ended in a mishap. Sure enough, that happened Friday night when Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith donned a 1970s-era "Shaft" costume and tried to drive a motorycle onto the court. Smith tipped the bike over near the baseline as he tried to bring it to a stop, eliciting an audible gasp from the Texas Tech crowd. Thankfully he was going at such low speed that he was unharmed, even quipping that he hoped he hadn't scratched the floor. Texas Tech surely hopes that Smith's motorcycle wreck isn't a metaphor for the upcoming season. The Red Raiders have not made the NCAA tournament since 2007 and are expected to finish in the Big 12's bottom two for the seventh straight season. 

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'
Bill Self recreates Andrew Wiggins' infamous draft day outfit
Clemson student sinks $25,000 half-court shot
Costume-clad Tubby Smith crashes motorcycle
Drake's appearance at Kentucky includes cringe-worthy air ball
Mercer's Ike Nwamu leaps over teammate, throws down big dunk
New Mexico coach shaves his head for a good cause

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 18, 2014, 3:15 am

Shortly after Cody Doolin abruptly left the University of San Francisco two weeks into his senior season, UNLV coach Dave Rice called to gauge the point guard's interest in joining the Rebels this year.

By the time he hung up the phone, Rice had a hunch Doolin's recruitment would be unusual.

What drove Doolin to quit the team at USF was an incident at practice that began with he and a teammate scuffling and escalated when Dons coach Rex Walters gathered the rest of the players around them and urged them to settle their differences with a fist fight. The incident scarred Doolin enough that the finance major initially told Rice that he wasn't sure he wanted to play basketball anymore and that he was close to accepting an enticing job offer from a company based in his hometown of Austin, Texas.

"Usually you recruit against other schools to get a player, but in this case we were also recruiting against the private sector," Rice said. "I told him I totally understand if he wanted to go into the job market but I stressed that I thought it was important for him to have positive closure to his basketball career and this was the place to do it."

Doolin's decision to take Rice's advice to heart and give basketball one more shot could turn out to be highly beneficial for both him and UNLV.

For Doolin, UNLV offers a chance to rekindle his love for the sport, to start for a winning program and to finish his college career on a bigger stage. For UNLV, Doolin has the potential to singlehandedly address many of the problems that contributed to the Rebels underachieving under Rice the past couple years.

Even though Rice has stockpiled more talent than any UNLV coach since the program's golden era under Jerry Tarkanian, the Rebels haven't won an NCAA tournament game the past three seasons and failed to even reach the postseason last March. A recurring issue has been the absence of a classic pass-first point guard to organize the offense and set an unselfish tone. Rice has also acknowledged UNLV lacked sufficient team chemistry, hustle and leadership last season despite its veteran-heavy rotation.

With all five starters from last season having departed and three decorated but unproven freshmen expected to start this year, UNLV desperately needed a stabilizing influence at point guard. That's why Rice spent so much time and effort pursuing Doolin, a three-year starter at USF who averaged 13.0 points and 7.0 assists before he left the Dons yet is as renowned for his humility and leadership skills as his on-court production.

"For a few weeks after I left USF, I just tried to gather myself and figure out what I wanted to do and whether I wanted to play again," Doolin said. "Coach Rice reached out to me and I really just had a great connection with him from day one. I really loved the program and liked everything he was about. That's one of the main reasons I decided to play basketball again."

It's typically difficult for a newcomer to emerge as an influential voice right away, but Doolin took steps over the summer to forge relationships with his young, talented teammates and ensure he'd have the credibility to lead. He made a point of giving the freshmen rides to their apartments after workouts or spending time with them off campus — little things that helped them learn to trust him immediately.

Doolin insists the freshmen have displayed maturity and work ethic beyond their years so far, but he isn't afraid to offer advice or encouragement when warranted either. He also leads by example, passing up contested shots to get a better look for a teammate or finishing first in 29 straight sprints at a recent practice only to tear into himself after freshman Dwayne Morgan beat him to the baseline on the 30th.

"A leader like Cody is something we desperately needed on our team this year," Rice said. "We did some good things last year but I was disappointed we weren't better in the areas of consistent effort and team chemistry and I say that publicly. It's critically important we shore up those areas this season, and having someone with Cody's experience and leadership qualities will help us move in the right direction with the young talent we have."

All of Rice's praise for Doolin's communication skills and work ethic comes as no surprise to those who have known the point guard longest. They say Doolin showed the qualities of a natural leader even early in his high school career.

Tres Ellis, Doolin's coach at Westlake High School in Austin, said the point guard always possessed a knack for knowing when to encourage his teammates and when to pull one off to the side and offer advice or respectful criticism. Once, during a big timeout in a rivalry game, Doolin even sensed Ellis was stressed and calmed down his coach by telling him, "Relax. We've got this."

"He's one of those guys everyone listens to and everyone respects," Ellis said. "He never chastised anyone. He had a really good way of connecting with his teammates — even younger guys. He'd tell them,'Hey that's OK, do it next time' or 'We need you to do it like this.' He had a natural sense of respect for others. Even if they weren't at his level, he encouraged them to get better and he taught them how to do it."

Since coaches are so quick to laud his intangibles and he's so quick to poke fun at his own modest speed and scrawny 6-foot-2 frame, Doolin's physical gifts and on-court production tend to get overlooked. Sure, he'll never be Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, but the mop-haired, rail-thin guard is not nearly as overmatched athletically at the college level as he'd have you believe.

Ellis said that opponents underestimated Doolin even in high school when he was one of the Austin area's most productive players. In one game, the opposing guards kept trash talking Doolin about his game and his appearance even as he was destroying them on the court.

"He had like 20 at the half and 41 at the end of the game, and they were still trying to talk to him like they could stop him," Ellis said. "At halftime, we were walking off the court and I overheard the opposing coach telling his players, "Why are you still talking to him? I told you he plays better when you trash talk him and he's lighting you up."

Opposing players weren't the only ones who overlooked Doolin. San Francisco was one of the few programs to offer Doolin a scholarship despite his impressive statistics and winning track record at Westlake.

That proved to be a wise choice by Walters as Doolin made an instant impact with his knack for finding creases in the defense, his decision making with the ball in his hands and his vision in the open floor. Before the incident at practice that led to Doolin's departure from USF, Walters was ready to argue that his point guard was the WCC's best, ahead of more heralded players like Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos, BYU's Matt Carlino or LMU's Anthony Ireland.

"He may not look like a player when he walks on the floor and he's not going to wow you with his size and his body, but the bottom line is he has led our team to so many victories," Walters said last October.

"He's as good as anyone I've been around at getting guys shots. He's good enough that he can score it on his own, but he literally can tell you going full speed at any moment where the other nine guys are on the court and maybe even what some of the coaches are saying. He has great vision and great feel to really find people."

That skill set should be as good a match for Rice's trademark up-tempo system as Doolin's humble, even-keeled demeanor is for UNLV's freshman-heavy roster. At least, that was Rice's thought process when he began his dogged pursuit of Doolin and urged the point guard not to give up basketball just yet.

Five months after putting his other goals on hold for a year and enrolling at UNLV for graduate school, Doolin has no regrets. He enjoys playing for Rice, interacting with his young teammates and having the opportunity to help the Rebels shed the reputation of underachievers.

"It has been a great experience so far," Doolin said. "We have a young team but we have the potential to be pretty good. We have the ability to force turnovers, block shots and finish in transition. If we can hone in on all the little things like taking charges, getting loose balls and making hustle plays and combine that with the talent we have here, we can be pretty special."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 17, 2014, 6:40 pm

It was no surprise that Shaka Smart drew the largest gaggle of journalists during the morning session of Atlantic 10 media day. When your team is unanimously picked to win the A-10, a six-bid conference last season, this kind of buzz and interest is expected.

But for Dayton coach Archie Miller, an up-and-coming head coach just like his VCU counterpart was a few years ago, the attention is something new.

The Flyers were the Cinderella team of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, knocking off Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford en route to the school’s first Elite Eight appearance in 30 years. It was an improbable run that instantly made Dayton a household name and media daring, but Miller says it has no impact on the Flyers' preparation for the new season. 

“We handle the preseason the same [as any year],” Miller said. “Our quest is to be the best we can be and to be a champion.”

Whether Dayton can live up to that lofty goal this winter will depend on how the Flyers cope with the loss of several key players from last season. Guard Vee Sanford, forward Devin Oliver and center Matt Kavanaugh have each departed, but six rotation players return from last season. 

The two returning standouts for Dayton are guard Jordan Sibert and forward Dyshawn Pierre, both of whom were voted to the conference’s preseason first and second teams this week, respectively. Expect a big year as well from point guard Scoochie Smith, who played more minutes than expected last season and will inherit the starting job from Khari Price. 

The Atlantic 10's preseason poll projected Dayton third, behind only league favorite VCU and a George Washington team that returns four of its top six scorers from an NCAA tournament team. That's a far cry from last season when the Flyers were projected seventh and were able to fly under the radar during most of the season.

“It’ll be challenging [to manage expectations],” Miller said. “It will be very challenging locally for us. Our fans are very passionate. There’s a positive vibe around our kids that probably hasn’t been around our campus before. We’re going to have to really be mindful of that.”

When Miller took over at Dayton four years ago, the Flyers were neither a doormat nor an A-10 powerhouse. They were a decent mid-major that had been to the NCAA tournament four times since 2000 but hadn't reached a Sweet 16 since 1984. 

In his three years with Dayton, Miller is 63-37. The Flyers' 26 wins last season were the third most in school history.

“A lot of it has to do with recruiting,” Miller said. “There was a lot of turnover, a lot of graduation in our first couple of years so we played a lot of young people. Now they’re older, they developed, that’s when you believe in developing people and your style mixing.”

Despite Miller’s insistence that nothing has changed within the program and expectations remain the same, the outside perception of Dayton has certainly been altered and the program has benefitted from its Cinderella run. In a region dominated by Ohio State, Xavier, Cincinnati and other power conference schools, more recruits are considering the Flyers to be a viable option.

“There has been a lot more acceptance,” Miller said. “There is a wider range of area, even locally in the state of Ohio, there’s more respect. There’s a much different respect level. We are experiencing a lot of benefits for a team that makes that type of run. Teams sell it, they play off it.”

So can Dayton build on last year's success, contend once again in the Atlantic 10 and enjoy another memorable March? 

“We’re building, trying to compete and try and win every game we possibly can win doing it our way,” Miller said. “If our expectation is anything higher than that, I’m not necessarily saying it’s impossible but, we’re trying to be who we are. It’s nice to be recognized, but at the same time [March] is very very far [away] there’s a lot of room for other programs to do the same thing.”

Author: Anthony Sulla-Heffinger
Posted: October 17, 2014, 5:05 pm

Yahoo Sports will break down the top 10 leagues for the upcoming college basketball season working backward from No. 10 to No. 1. Here's a look at our No. 8 league, the Mountain West.

Thanks to the return of all but two rotation players from last season and the arrival of the most decorated recruiting class in school history, defending Mountain West champion San Diego State is a deserving league favorite entering the new season.

Whether the gap between the Aztecs and the rest of the league is sizable or not depends on San Diego State's ability to generate enough offense without graduated star Xavier Thames.

Thames averaged 17.6 points, 3.2 assists and 1.6 steals last season, but stats don't begin to fully demonstrate his impact. Not only was he San Diego State's emotional leader, he also was the Aztecs' offensive catalyst, creating opportunities for himself or his teammates off high ball screens whenever the shot clock began to bleed dry.  

San Diego State's heir apparent at point guard will either be freshman Kevin Zabo or returning role players Aqeel Quinn and D'Erryl Williams, but the scoring burden will have to be shared by Dwayne Polee Jr., Winston Shepard, Matt Shrigley and perhaps some of the freshmen as the season goes along. Polee excelled late last season as a complementary scorer to Thames, but must prove he can do more than hit catch-and-shoot threes and score in transition. Shepard is an elite talent whose erratic decision making and wayward outside shot can sometimes overshadow his ability to attack the rim.

While San Diego State has top 15 potential if its offense proves more efficient than expected, it's defense and rebounding that will likely be the Aztecs' hallmark again this season. Returning starter Skylar Spencer and Arizona transfer Angelo Chol form an imposing frontline, while Polee, Shepard and Shrigley have impressive length and quickness for their positions and JJ O'Brien is a versatile position-oriented defender. 

A huge reason San Diego State is the clear-cut Mountain West favorite entering the season is because so many other top teams lost so many key players. 

All five UNLV starters departed this offseason, leaving the Rebels to build around three top 50 freshmen and a transfer point guard whose unselfishness and leadership ability should be huge assets. Similarly, New Mexico lost its core when Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams graduated and Alex Kirk left for the NBA a year ahead of schedule. And even Colorado State suffered a big setback when Louisville transfer Chane Behanan opted to turn pro and starting point guard Jon Octeus transferred. 

Nonetheless, those three should still be in the mix to challenge San Diego State, as should Boise State, Fresno State and Wyoming. 

The Broncos have to replace top big man Ryan Watkins, but they have the perimeter firepower to make noise thanks to sharpshooting wing Anthony Drmic and point guard Derrick Marks. The Cowboys have plenty of experience, a sound defense and one of the elite players in the conference in Larry Nance Jr., assuming he is fully recovered from his Feb. 18 season-ending knee injury. And lastly, the Bulldogs are a threat too if the addition of Texas transfer Julien Lewis to the backcourt pays immediate dividend. 

For the Mountain West to bounce back from last year's two-bid disappointment, the league needs a couple of its second-tier teams to perform well in November and December and challenge San Diego State in conference play. 

The Aztecs are the closest the Mountain West has to a sure thing next season. It's up to San Diego State to generate enough offense to create separation between itself and the rest of the league. And it's up to everyone else to replace what was lost this summer and work to narrow the gap.   

MAKING A LIST

Best shooter: Riley Grabau, Wyoming. The Cowboys signed Grabau in April 2011 when assistant coach Scott Duncan read an article about him in the Denver Post, saw that he hadn't committed to a school and asked head coach Larry Shyatt if he could go check the 6-foot-2 shooting guard out. Needless to say, that turned out to be a wise decision. Grabau blossomed into a perimeter marksman as a junior, scoring 10.1 points per game, sinking 42 percent of his threes and hitting a league-best 89.2 percent of his free throws. 
Best playmaker: Cody Doolin, UNLV. Though Dave Rice has recruited a bevy of highly rated wings and big men during his UNLV tenure, the one thing his past few Rebels teams have lacked is a pass-first point guard with the unselfishness and leadership skills to bring out the best in his talented teammates. That will change this year thanks to the addition of Doolin, a pure point guard who averaged 13 points and 7 assists for San Francisco last season before leaving the program in December. Doolin will be counted on to organize the offense, distribute and provide leadership for a Rebels team that lost all five starters from last season.
Best defender: Larry Nance Jr., Wyoming. The son of the former Cleveland Cavaliers standout ranked in the top six in the Mountain West last season in steals, blocks and rebounds per game, highly impressive considering he also averaged 15.8 points per game and shot 54 percent from the field. Assuming Nance fully recovers from the season-ending knee injury he suffered in mid-February, he should be not only the league's top defenders but also one of its best all-around players. Additionally, he can also defend as many as four positions. 
Top NBA prospect: Rashad Vaughn, UNLV. With all five of starters from last season gone and not a single double-digit scorer returning, the Rebels have no choice but to lean on newcomers. That should mean plenty of opportunities for Vaughn, a 6-foot-6 wing who has deep range on his jump shot, can create off the dribble and boasts the confidence to keep shooting through a slump. Vaughn, Rivals.com's No. 8 prospect in the Class of 2014, is a projected lottery pick in the 2016 draft, per DraftExpress.com. 
Best backcourt: Boise State. Can the Broncos overcome the loss of top big man Ryan Watkins and bounce back after underachieving last season? If so, the resurgence will have to be spearheaded by their backcourt. Leading scorer Anthony Drmic is a better 3-point shooter than he displayed last season, point guard Derrick Marks excels creating his own shot off the dribble and combo guard Mikey Thompson is primed for a bigger role. 
Best frontcourt: San Diego State. One of the biggest reasons the Aztecs could be one of the premier defensive teams in the nation is the presence of two shot-blocking big men who both can also hold position in the post and attack the offensive and defensive glass. Skylar Spencer is a returning starter for San Diego State, while Angelo Chol is a transfer who got buried in Arizona's deep frontcourt but returns to his native San Diego primed for a breakout season at both ends. 
Best recruiting class: UNLV. San Diego State had its best recruiting class ever and UNLV reeled in three top 50 recruits for the first time since the days of Jerry Tarkanian. Both classes are outstanding, but the short-term edge goes to the Rebels simply because more playing time is available immediately to the newcomers. Rashad Vaughn will be counted on for perimeter scoring as a freshman, while Dwayne Morgan is a versatile 6-foot-7 forward and Goodluck Okonoboh is a defensive presence in the paint. 
Coach on the rise: Rodney Terry, Fresno State. The Bulldogs have overcome injuries and transfers to gradually improve in each of Terry's three seasons, culminating in a 21-win season and a berth in the CBI finals last year. Terry hasn't had a breakthrough yet — and he may not this season either with star Tyler Johnson having graduated — but there are enough holdovers that Fresno State could certainly move up in the standings once again. And with Texas transfer Julien Lewis joining an already formidable backcourt, a jump into the Mountain West's top three isn't out of the realm of possibility. 
Coach on the hot seat: Dave Rice, UNLV. For all his many recruiting successes so far at UNLV, Rice hasn't proven he can devise a system to utilize elite talent effectively. The Rebels failed to win an NCAA tournament game either of Rice's first two seasons and missed the postseason altogether last year, an outcome brought on by poor team chemistry and the lack of a true point guard. UNLV will have a point guard this season in San Francisco transfer Cody Doolin, so that shouldn't be a recurring issue. That's good news for Rice, who certainly will feel some pressure if UNLV doesn't at least look more organized than it did last season.

FACTS AND FIGURES

New coaches: None
Regular-season winner last season: San Diego State
Tourney winner last season: New Mexico
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2013-14: 10th, 2012-13: 1st, 2011-12: 5th

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 16, 2014, 6:07 am

One year after Florida shook off a flurry of early-season suspensions and injuries to capture the SEC title and advance to the Final Four, the Gators will be starting another year shorthanded. 

Florida coach Billy Donovan announced Wednesday that forward Chris Walker has been suspended for the Gators' exhibition opener and their first two regular season games after violating an unspecified team rule. Donovan also told reporters in Gainesville that highly touted 6-foot-5 incoming freshman Brandone Francis will not play this season for academic reasons, though he will remain on campus.

While Francis would have been a valuable reserve behind Michael Frazier at shooting guard, the suspension of Walker may be an even greater concern. Florida desperately needs the 6-foot-10 sophomore to perform like a McDonald's All-American this season after an underwhelming freshman year.

Walker arrived late last season due to academic issues and was used sparingly behind Patric Young and Will Yeguete. He averaged 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds off the bench, displaying high-flying athleticism in flashes but also disappearing for long stretches and getting lost on defense.

A starting spot is there for the taking for Walker this season with Florida's entire starting frontcourt having graduated, but the sophomore needs to prove to Donovan he's reliable. The Florida coach praised Walker's rebounding and athleticism but acknowledged he has "a long way to go" scoring with his back to the basket and defending his position.

The suspension of Walker is potentially damaging for Florida as the Gators open against CAA contender William & Mary and much improved Miami. Nonetheless, Florida proved last season it can win shorthanded when Scottie Wilbekin, Kasey Hill, Walker and others missed time in November and December.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 15, 2014, 7:17 pm

Two months before his first game as women's basketball coach at Mount St. Joseph University, Dan Benjamin received an unusual request from the parents of one of his players.

Lisa and Brent Hill asked Benjamin to try to move up the date of the team's Nov. 15 season opener because they feared their daughter might not be alive by then.

Lauren Hill and her teammates at Lawrenceburg High School last season (via Lisa Hill)

Freshman forward Lauren Hill learned last fall that she'd likely be dead in less than two years after the discovery of an inoperable tumor at the base of her brain stem. An MRI last month revealed the tumor had grown so large that doctors doubted Hill would make it through December, casting doubt on the 19-year-old's chances of either living long enough or being healthy enough to fulfill her dream of playing college basketball next month. 

"I've been coaching in the Cincinnati area for 25 years and part of the reason you coach is to make an impact on people's lives," Benjamin said. "In this case, a small change could make a big difference, so it was definitely an easy decision to try to help her make her dream come true."

Though Division III basketball teams aren't permitted to play games that count in the standings until mid-November, Benjamin secured an exemption from the NCAA to start his team's season sooner. He then persuaded season-opening opponent Hiram College to agree to play on Nov. 2 and to shift the site of the game to Mount St. Joseph.

To Lisa Hill, the date change is an improvement but not enough to assuage concerns. Lauren's symptoms have worsened recently and her health may deteriorate further in the next few weeks. Some days her hand-eye coordination suffers. Others she battles vertigo. Lately, the Greendale, Ind., native endures headaches and nausea every day and the right side of her body is so weak that her leg often gives out on her when she walks.

"I wish I could move the game up to this Sunday, I'll tell you that," Lisa Hill said. "[Lauren] could probably get away with it then, but in two weeks there is no guarantee what condition she's going to be in. I do know she will fight tooth and nail to keep herself together and get to that game because she wants to put on that jersey, be on that floor and fulfill her dream of playing on the college level."

Family and friends believe the younger Hill will summon the strength to play a few minutes on Nov. 2 because they've seen her defy the odds many times before.

This is a girl who played the majority of her senior season in high school while undergoing radiation and chemotherapy; who taught herself to shoot left-handed because her right arm sometimes lacks the strength to get the ball to the rim; who participated in almost every Mount St. Joseph open gym session this fall even though fatigue forces her to rest every couple minutes.

Basketball is worth such a monumental effort from Hill because it provides a respite from her troubles and a brief return to normalcy. Just like Hill chose to graduate high school, enroll at Mount St. Joseph and live in a freshman dorm in spite of her diagnosis, she also refuses to give up a sport she has loved since the sixth grade.

"It definitely gives me something to look forward to and to live for," Hill said. "Playing basketball really helps me get my mind off things. The girls feed me energy. If I'm feeling down, they pick me up and help me keep going. They're kind of my fuel."

If Hill gleans energy from her teammates and coaches, they often draw inspiration from her strength. Those close to Hill marvel at how she has resolved to make the most of the few months she has left to live despite a diagnosis that waylaid her and her family.

Neither Hill nor her parents had any inkling something was wrong last October when she struggled to keep pace with some of her Lawrenceburg High School teammates during conditioning. Hill simply assumed she was out of shape after not playing soccer in the fall the way she had the previous three years.

Sporadic balance and hand-eye coordination issues, bouts of dizziness and occasional blurry vision and hearing loss probably should have tipped Hill off that something was wrong, but again she found a convenient explanation. A previous collision with a teammate had left her with a black eye, so she and her parents figured that perhaps she had sustained a concussion and still had some lingering symptoms.

When Hill's parents took her to the hospital last November for some precautionary tests, the results of an MRI and CT scan proved to be far from routine. Doctors diagnosed Hill with Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a rare, inoperable pediatric brain tumor that primarily affects children ages 5-10 and kills 90 percent of victims within 18 months.

"We were totally blindsided," Lisa Hill said. "I would have never in my wildest dreams thought it was a brain tumor of any sort, let alone the worst one that it could be. Brent felt like he was going to pass out and I felt like I was going to throw up, I got lightheaded and I burst out crying. It was just an overwhelming amount of emotion when you're not expecting that diagnosis at all."

Lauren Hill (via Lisa Hill)The calmest family member in the room was Lauren. Once she inquired about potential treatment options, the younger Hill's next question was whether she'd be able to play basketball again.

Basketball had evolved into one of Hill's passions over the course of her high school career even though Lawrenceburg was far from a powerhouse. By the start of Hill's junior season, she had resolved to play in college. By the start of her senior season, she had committed to play for nearby Mount St. Joseph.

Hill decided to tell her high school teammates about her brain tumor only days after she learned about it herself. Lawrenceburg coach Zane White addressed players after a film session, telling them only that one of their teammates needed their thoughts and prayers.

"She stood up in front of 10 other girls and told her story," White said. "By the time she was done there wasn't a dry eye in the room. None of us could really grasp the severity of what she had at the time or what was inevitable, but even just hearing the words 'brain tumor' and 'cancer' was enough to scare the you know what out of all of us."

Though six weeks of radiation and two months of chemotherapy sapped Hill's strength, she still only missed a handful of games her senior season. She started every game she played and endured as many minutes as she could before exhaustion overtook her, emerging as the emotional leader for her team even if she could no longer carry Lawrenceburg with her play on the floor.

In addition to focusing on school and basketball the past 11 months, Hill has also found purpose in striving to raise money and awareness for DIPG and other forms of pediatric cancer. She has partnered on fundraisers with The Cure Starts Now Cancer Research Foundation. She has encouraged her friends to learn about DIPG or spread the word by doing class assignments on it. And she has raised awareness herself by doing interviews with Cincinnati-area TV stations about her fight with the disease.

"There are kids younger than I am with DIPG that I feel so sorry for," Hill said. "I've lived 19 years. These kids, they're living five."

Hill's quest to shine a spotlight on DIPG is a huge reason why it's so important to her to play in the Mount St. Joseph season opener on Nov. 2. In addition to the personal satisfaction of achieving a longtime goal, Hill sees the media attention she'll no doubt garner as a big plus for her cause.

There are times when doubts creep into Hill's mind over whether she'll live long enough to play in that game. There are times when the challenges of each day make it too hard to think that far ahead. Nonetheless, Hill is resolute in her desire to stride onto the floor when the starting lineups are introduced, to stand with her teammates when the national anthem plays and to participate in as many possessions as possible before fatigue sends her to the bench.

"The two things that have driven her are her dreams to play at the college level and to spread awareness about this ugly disease," Lisa Hill said. "If she accomplishes both, she goes out the way she wants to go out. That in itself is priceless."

Video from WLWT of Hill's quest to raise awareness for pediatric cancer: 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 15, 2014, 8:35 am

NEW YORK — As Manhattan coach Steve Masiello sits in his office on a recent Monday afternoon, he looks much different than he did the last time the nation saw him.

He has traded in his tailored suit for a pair of gym shorts and a long-sleeved Under Armour shirt. He has spent the summer growing a beard, a far cry from the clean cut look he normally sports during the season. Most of all, the intense coach who paces and barks orders like a drill sergeant on the sideline is welcoming and ready to discuss a program that he has helped bring into he national spotlight — for better and worse.

In March, Masiello piloted Manhattan to its first NCAA tournament bid in a decade and nearly toppled defending national champion Louisville in the opening round. Days later, he accepted South Florida's head coaching job only to have to return to Manhattan and ask for his old job back after a routine background check revealed he had not completed his undergraduate degree at Kentucky as he claimed on his resume. 

“I think when adversity happens, one of two things happen, you either become fragmented or you become closer,” Masiello said. “I think for myself, the players, the president, the athletic director, we became closer. The Manhattan community got closer and better because of it. I’m very thankful for Manhattan and I have a lot of gratitude because they stuck by me. I have a lot of gratitude for them making a decision based on people, not a lot of people do that nowadays.”

It might seem counter-intuitive that Masiello nearly leaving his players could bring the team closer together, but he insists it has. He also says his offseason issues have made him stronger as a person and coach and have provied a convenient teaching tool for his players.

“I can look at my guys in the eye now and say, look, I made a mistake at 21, 22, at your age, that could have cost me my career so the decisions you’re making now can affect you in 15, 20 years,” Masiello said. “I have such a close bond with them now that I never felt so loved and wanted by a group of guys. To hear it coming from your players, it’s special. It has inspired me.”

Last March few people outside of the die-hard college basketball crowd knew much about Masiello and Manhattan, and even fewer expected the Jaspers to challenge defending champion Louisville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Masiello, however, knew his team had an edge.

Masiello played for Rick Pitino during his time at Kentucky and served as an assistant on his coaching staff at Louisville early in his own coaching career. Masiello knew he had a formidable roster boasting three seniors, Rhamel Brown, George Beamon and Michael Alvarado and a handful of other players who, after losing to Iona in the MAAC championship just a year prior, were getting their first true taste of March Madness.

The Jaspers did more than just challenge Pitino’s Cardinals that night. Manhattan led Louisville by three points with less than four minutes to play in the game before Luke Hancock’s heroics sent the Jaspers and Masiello back to New York. Manhattan had grabbed the attention of the country and Masiello, who had revived the struggling mid-major in three short seasons, became a hot coaching commodity.

Days later, South Florida offered Masiello a five-year deal. The 36-year-old agreed in principle to the contract, but within hours the school rescinded its offer upon discovering the resume discrepancy, sending Masiello into a period of coaching limbo and generating headlines across the country.

With the offseason scandal in the rearview mirror, Manhattan is expected to be near the top of the pack in the MAAC again this season. Despite losing Brown, Beamon and Alvarado, the Jaspers still boast a roster filled with talent, including sharpshooting junior Shane Richards as well as a frontcourt that will rely heavily on junior Ashton Pankey and Cincinnati transfer Jermaine Lawrence.

“It’s not about just one guy,” Masiello said. “I constantly talk about our team culture and team ego. It’s about accountability and peer pressure. I can say whatever I want but when a sophomore is telling a freshman what to do, that’s much more powerful.”

Based on this past offseason’s events, the logical thought would be that because Masiello looked to leave the school once, he may do so again. That hasn't always made recruiting easy, but it has made it clear where Manhattan stands with the prospects it is pursuing. 

“What it does is it identifies who you had a chance with and who you didn’t have a chance with that much sooner,” Masiello said. “What I got was a lot of phone calls from people who said ‘Coach, we love you, you’re still our guy, we’re in your corner,’ or I didn’t hear from people. I got to see who was really about Steve Masiello, the Manhattan program and the Manhattan players, not peripheral things.”

Although the program has made significant strides since Masiello took over prior to the 2011-12 season, it is hampered somewhat by playing in the MAAC, traditionally a one-bid league. In each of the past two seasons mid-majors Iona and Manhattan have met in the conference’s championship game, with the winner securing an automatic, and the conference’s only, NCAA Tournament bid.

Masiello believes his team, and Tim Cluess’s just a handful of miles away in New Rochelle, are perfect examples of how the tournament’s selection process is flawed.

“We have to get away from numbers,” Masiello said. “The RPI is extremely manipulative. What we’ve lost as basketball people, and this is no disrespect to the media, we’ve allowed you guys to have too much say when it comes to basketball and the problem is you don’t study the game like coaches do.

“I always say this, ‘Poll the 68 teams and ask them if they want to play us or Iona.’ Of course the seventh place team in the ACC is going to have a better RPI than the second place team in the MAAC, so I think it’s easy to manipulate that. The bottom line is, we lost the eye test. I think we have to get back to that a little bit. That’s my opinion."

But March and its potential slights are a long way away, especially when your team doesn’t open the season for another month and won’t play a home game until December 7.

For now, Masiello and Manhattan are focusing on getting ready to travel down a new road, and hoping that some people still don’t exactly know what a Jasper really is.

“I think the casual fan will be familiar with us,” Masiello said. “I think everyone is going to take us serious, but part of being that underdog is being able to sneak up on people. Hopefully we can get some of that.”

Author: Anthony Sulla-Heffinger
Posted: October 14, 2014, 9:56 pm

To make an immediate impact in college basketball, decorated freshmen typically need more than just elite talent and skill.

They also need opportunity.

This is a list of the freshmen with the best combination of natural ability and available playing time to put their stamp on the 2014-15 season. You won't find every Kentucky freshman because the Wildcats' roster is simply too stacked with returners for all the newcomers to have big roles this season. You will find a handful of guys further down in the Rivals rankings, however, because their teams will be counting on them right away.   

1. Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke (Rivals 150 ranking: No. 1)

Although the lack of a true center left Duke defenseless at the rim most of last season and contributed to the Blue Devils surrendering the fifth-most points per possession in the ACC, Mike Krzyzewski could at least take solace that it was only a temporary problem. Duke had already landed the most polished center prospect since Greg Oden as the centerpiece of its 2014 recruiting class. Okafor isn't a high-flying shot blocker capable of intimidating opposing guards in the lane, but his presence at least gives Duke a second line of defense if its perimeter players again struggle to stay in front of their man. The 6-foot-11 Chicago native also will use his size, strength and skill to command double teams on the low block and to emerge as a force at both ends on the glass. Considering Duke can surround Okafor with an array of shooters, the Blue Devils should remain one of the nation's most efficient offensive teams even without last year's standouts, Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood.

2. Stanley Johnson, G, Arizona (Rivals 150 ranking: No. 3)

Nick Johnson's decision to depart a year early for the NBA leaves Arizona in need of a go-to scorer this season. A balanced approach might best suit the Wildcats early in the season, but it would be no surprise to see Johnson take over that role as the year goes along. A powerfully built 6-foot-6 wing who commanded high-major scholarship offers by the end of his freshman year of high school, Johnson has blossomed further as his skill level has begun to catch up to his ample strength and athleticism. No longer does he merely rely on overpowering opposing wings. Now he can also make those who play him to drive pay with an ever-improving jump shot. If Johnson can use his size and strength to become a lock-down perimeter defender and shoot well enough from the perimeter to be a multifaceted threat on offense, he is fully capable of validating his reputation as the premier wing in the freshman class. 

3. Rashad Vaughn, G, UNLV (Rivals 150 ranking: No. 8)

There isn't another freshman class in the nation more certain to make an instant impact than UNLV's. That's because the Rebels have no choice but to lean on newcomers after losing all five of last year's starters — two to transfers, two others to professional basketball and one to graduation. Of UNLV's three top 50 freshmen, the one most likely to emerge as a star from day one is Vaughn. The 6-foot-6 wing has deep range on his jump shot, can create off the dribble and boasts the confidence to keep shooting through a slump, a trait that can serve him well but sometimes also leads to questionable shot selection. Considering UNLV doesn't return a single player who averaged more than 6.3 points per game, the Rebels will probably have to live with some ill-advised shots from Vaughn because they desperately need him to assume the role of top scoring threat.

4. Kevon Looney, F, UCLA (Rivals 150 ranking: No. 10)

With Travis and David Wear both graduating and only Tony Parker returning from last season's frontcourt rotation, UCLA coach Steve Alford needed college-ready big men in his 2014 class. Alford delivered in a big way, landing Looney and fellow McDonald's All-American Thomas Welsh. While both will play big roles for an unusually thin UCLA team, it's Looney who is more likely to grab headlines early. The 6-foot-8 forward is an extremely hard-working player who can score a variety of ways, from mid-range jump shots, to back-to-the-basket moves, to put-backs via offensive rebounds. That's critical for UCLA since Looney may not be able to count on perfect entry passes in the paint with the Bruins lacking a true point guard on the roster. Looney may also have to spend some time on the perimeter since UCLA has only three scholarship guards on its roster.  

5. Karl Anthony-Towns, F, Kentucky (Rivals 150 ranking: No. 5)

The unexpected return of potential first-round draft picks Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson created a frontcourt logjam for Kentucky with six potential future NBA players vying for playing time at two positions. That may cut into Towns' immediate playing time, but nonetheless it's difficult to imagine the skilled 6-foot-11 big man not carving out a big role for himself as the season goes along. Whereas Johnson is a classic back-to-the-basket big man and Cauley-Stein is a defensive ace whose offense is still developing, the long, fluid Towns is more well-rounded than either of his peers. He has catch-and-shoot range out to the 3-point arc and can also dribble and pass well for a 7-footer. Where Towns can be neutralized is if he falls in love with his perimeter game and doesn't play from the inside-out. Outside shooting can be an aspect of his game but he's doing opposing teams a favor if it's the focal point.  

6. D'Angelo Russell, G, Ohio State (Rivals 150 ranking: No. 18)

Having lost its three leading scorers from a team that already regularly endured extended droughts last year, Ohio State desperately needs its promising freshman class to provide immediate help on offense. The player most capable of that is Russell, a smooth 6-foot-5 combo guard who has a knack for racking up points in bunches. Russell, a Louisville native, has the range to shoot over smaller defenders from behind the arc and the quickness to get in the lane, where he often either sets up his teammates or takes a floater himself. He won't be counted on to carry Ohio State offensively by himself — veterans Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott and Temple transfer Anthony Lee should all help — but the Buckeyes need him to emerge as an impact scorer if they're going to challenge for the Big Ten crown.

7. Cliff Alexander, F, Kansas (Rivals 150 ranking: No. 4)

Bill Self has long compared Alexander to former Kansas All-American Thomas Robinson, but their career arcs cannot be identical if the younger forward is going to live up to his high ranking this season. Robinson was a role player his first two seasons behind the Morris twins before blossoming into a star as a junior. Alexander doesn't have the luxury of learning behind veterans this season with Joel Embiid in the NBA and Kansas likely counting on him to start alongside Perry Ellis. One of the concerns about Alexander is that he scored a lot in high school via bully ball, using a size and strength advantage he won't always have in college to overpower opposing defenders. Fortunately for Alexander, he plays for a coach with a long history of developing top big men. Word from Kansas is that his low-post moves already look smoother and less mechanical and he is becoming more comfortable scoring against defenders with length greater than his own. 

8. Kaleb Joseph, G, Syracuse (Rivals 150 ranking: No. 46)

When Joseph arrived at Syracuse this summer, the New Hampshire native made headlines by proclaiming to reporters, "I'm not Tyler Ennis." That's fine, but Syracuse still desperately needs him to take to the starting point guard job as quickly as Ennis did. Joseph, the only true point guard on the Syracuse roster, will almost certainly join Ennis, Jonny Flynn, Gerry McNamara and Pearl Washington as point guards who have started as freshmen for the Orange. He should instantly provide offense too, which is vital for a Syracuse team that struggled to score late last season and lost Ennis, Jerami Grant and C.J. Fair to the NBA. Whereas Ennis was a crafty pass-first point guard whose first instinct was to distribute rather than score, Joseph excels at getting by his man with his strength and explosiveness but is still learning how to create shots for others in addition to himself.

9. Isaiah Whitehead, G, Seton Hall (Rivals 150 ranking: No. 16)

The crown jewel of Seton Hall's most ballyhooed recruiting class in at least a decade, Whitehead arrives with sky-high expectations. The 6-foot-4 Brooklyn native is expected to spearhead a resurgence for the Pirates after selecting them over the likes of Syracuse, Louisville, St. John's, Arizona and Indiana. Whitehead will inherit the starting shooting guard position from Fuquan Edwin and should pile up the points thanks to his ability to score off the dribble or via pull-up jumpers. He isn't the most consistent player and he sometimes takes ill-advised shots, but the Pirates will have to live with that because they need his offense after losing three of last year's four top scorers.

10. Justin Jackson, F/G, North Carolina (Rivals 150 ranking: No. 11)

For North Carolina to contend in the ACC and nationally this season, the Tar Heels must find another perimeter scoring threat besides Marcus Paige. The most likely person to fill that role is Jackson, a 6-foot-8 forward who is as versatile a scorer as there is entering the college game this season. While Jackson has the range to knock down threes, he is most efficient and most effective with his mid-range game. Floaters and pull-up jump shots are both a big part of his arsenal. The only thing that could hold Jackson back this year is playing time because the Tar Heels have a wealth of options at both forward spots. Nonetheless, if his 17 points in North Carolina's intrasquad scrimmage at Late Night with Roy Williams is any indication, it won't be long before he carves out a big role for himself — especially if the Tar Heels are in need of further scoring help for Paige.

Ten others who will make an instant impact: Indiana's James Blackmon, UConn's Daniel Hamilton, Xavier's Trevon Bluiett, Kansas' Kelly Oubre, Temple's Obi Enechionyia, Duke's Tyus Jones, Texas' Myles Turner, Maryland's Romelo Trimble, USC's Jordan McLaughlin, UAB's William Lee.

Check out what's buzzing on the Yahoo Sports Minute:

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 14, 2014, 5:05 pm

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

The most clutch shot at Clemson's Midnight Madness event Friday night didn't come from a member of either the men's or women's basketball team. It belongs to Ryan Beck, a sophomore who came out of the stands to sink a half-court shot that could be worth $25,000 assuming it's certified by the vendor who sponsored the contest. Beck pumped his fist and offered hugs or high fives to every familiar face he saw in the delirious aftermath of his improbable shot. He was more subdued a few minutes later when he conducted an interview with Clemson athletics. "$25,000 is a lot of money, especially for a college kid without a job," Beck said. Then in the understatement of the year, he added, "It's pretty nice. I'm excited." Hopefully the contest sponsors won't attempt to find a loop hole to get out of paying Beck as we've occasionally seen in the past. If so, Beck says he plans to put some of the money toward his tuition.  

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'
Bill Self recreates Andrew Wiggins' infamous draft day outfit
Clemson student sinks $25,000 half-court shot

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 14, 2014, 5:01 am

They had peeled JeQuan Lewis off the floor in tears less than 24 hours earlier, so VCU coaches were a bit surprised by where they found the freshman point guard last March the day after the most nightmarish game of his basketball career.

He sat alone in the film room examining tape of the previous night's fiasco in hopes of learning from his mistakes and correcting them.

"I was extremely proud," VCU assistant coach Jeremy Ballard said. "For the average person, it would probably take a while to bounce back. You want to shut yourself in a room and feel sorry for yourself. JeQuan didn't do that at all. He got right back at it. He really used that game as fuel for the fire."

You can probably understand why the VCU staff was so impressed with Lewis because you surely remember his egregious gaffe. Video of it swept across social media within minutes, and SportsCenter showed the clip over and over again that night on an endless loop.

VCU led 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin by four points with less than 10 seconds remaining in their opening-round NCAA tournament game last March when Lumberjacks guard Thomas Walkup zoomed up court in search of a miracle. It was the sort of scenario that called for discretion rather than aggression from defenders, but VCU players are schooled in the art of swarming full-court pressure and that mindset can be hard to shut off for a freshman playing on the biggest stage of his life.

Lewis made his first mistake leaving sweet-shooting Stephen F. Austin wing Desmond Haymon to take a swipe at the ball. He then committed one of basketball's greatest sins as he barreled into Haymon trying to recover in time to contest the shot after Walkup spotted his teammate free on the right wing. That gave Haymon the chance to sink not just the 3-pointer but also a game-tying free throw that sent the game to overtime.

As if the four-point play wasn't a cruel enough memory for Lewis, he also squandered his potential redemptive moment in the extra session. He fell to his knees on the floor and buried his tear-stained face in his jersey after his wide-open corner 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced off the rim and out, ending VCU's season and sealing Stephen F. Austin's stunning 77-75 victory.

The loss was still painfully fresh for VCU when those close to Lewis started reaching out to him. VCU coach Shaka Smart emphasized it was a "team loss" when he addressed the team in the locker room. Seniors Juvonte Reddic and Rob Brandenberg made a point of consoling Lewis with a hug and ensuring him they didn't blame him. And calls and texts poured in from family, friends and former coaches, each of whom urged Lewis to keep his head up and take pride in the VCU coaches trusting him enough to play him in such a critical situation.

Knowing he didn't have to suffer alone helped Lewis handle a difficult setback as maturely as possible. He took responsibility for his mistake in the locker room, addressed it with reporters after the game and then put it behind him except when channeling it as motivation while in the gym or the weight room.  

 "I didn't dwell on it at all," Lewis said. "There's nothing that I could do about it then. Me taking the time to be sad about what happened the last game is taking away my time to get better for the next one."

The maturity with which Lewis handled the Stephen F. Austin loss is a great sign for a VCU program that will be counting on him to play an even bigger role this season than he did as a freshman.

A year ago, Lewis parlayed his speed, skill and ball handling ability into a role as an offensive spark plug off the bench, averaging 5.9 points and 2.0 assists per game in relief of starter Briante Weber at point guard. This year, VCU is counting on the 6-foot-1 sophomore from Dickson, Tenn. to play alongside Weber more frequently, enabling the senior to spend more time off ball at his natural wing position.

To prepare for his increased role, VCU coaches asked Lewis to become more proficient on defense, to make better decisions with the ball in his hands and to lead more vocally from the point guard position. Lewis has taken that to heart, impressing the coaches by expending maximum effort during conditioning, by speaking up more in practice and by making better reads when he's attacking off the dribble.

JeQuan Lewis looks at the referee as he is called for a foul on Desmond Haymon. (AP)"He's attacked the weight room and the practice court with a furor," Ballard said. "We're proud of where he is right now, but he's still only scratching the surface. He's one of the most skilled guys we've ever brought in. Between his ball handling ability, passing, shooting, feel for the game, speed, he's extremely talented."

Channeling frustration over a season-ending loss into something positive wouldn't have always been this easy for Lewis.

Since he was a gifted small-town athlete who grew up with few peers of his caliber, Lewis received little discipline or constructive criticism from his youth coaches. Only when he got older did AAU coach Mark Miller and Dickson County High School coach Kevin Tuck attempt to break him of the habit of not taking responsibility for mistakes, sulking after losses or lashing out when bad calls went against him.

"He had no discipine at first because no one had ever corrected him on anything," said Miller, Lewis' coach with the Tennessee Tigers club program. "Early on, we would sit him out of games — big games that we really needed him — or send him home from a tournament because he would get upset about something. But it was all about building. I knew what his dream was and he needed some tough love to help him get there."

Thanks to his developing maturity and natural ability as a ball handler and scorer, Lewis emerged as a Division I prospect early in his high school career and began to get looks from high-major schools by his junior year. VCU was one of the first schools to show interest in Lewis after former assistant Will Wade spotted him during a tournament and suggested Smart come take a look. 

Though Lewis might have received offers from many of the high-major programs who were interested in him had he waited longer, he committed to VCU in February of his junior year and never wavered on his pledge. He felt comfortable with Smart and believed he'd thrive in the Rams' up-tempo style of play. Plus, VCU had made it clear he was a top priority.

"I coached basketball for 25 years and I had several players go on to play in college, and I never advised one where to go except for him," Tuck said. "I was so impressed with Coach Smart. JeQuan's AAU coach and I had several long talks about it. We both agreed that was the place because of how Coach Smart handles his players. We knew he'd stay on him, be a positive role model for him and make him work hard. Not that we made the decision for him, but we definitely encouraged him to go to VCU."

There were a handful of rocky moments for Lewis early in his freshman season at VCU that made him question whether it was the right school for him.

For someone who had always been the best player on his previous teams, it was initially humbling for Lewis to come off the bench. Getting screamed at for showing fatigue during grueling conditioning drills was also a difficult adjustment, as was VCU's emphasis on defense. 

Nonetheless, after a few heart-to-heart chats with his AAU coach and with Smart, Lewis decided to stick it out and eventually learned to trust his new coaches. By the end of the season, there were numerous games in which Lewis was VCU's most dangerous scorer besides Treveon Graham, a big reason he was still on the floor late in the Rams' NCAA tournament opener last March with the game on the line.

The silver lining to Lewis' mistakes late in the Stephen F. Austin game is that they've helped fuel his work ethic this offseason. The four-point play and the missed 3-pointer didn't send him into a summer tailspin or keep him awake at nights, but they do provide motivation for Lewis to get back to the NCAA tournament and make a name for himself for more positive reasons.

"My coaches and teammates made it easy for me to get over it," Lewis said. "There was no finger pointing. They didn't blame anybody. They said it was a team loss and we'll be back again this year."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 13, 2014, 5:30 pm

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

For a guy who has shown up to previous Midnight Madness events clad in black leather on the back of a motorcycle or dressed as Vanilla Ice, Bill Self still managed to outdo himself Friday night at"Late Night at the Phog." The Kansas coach addressed the crowd dressed in a suit nearly identical to the infamous flower-print one former Jayhawks star Andrew Wiggins wore to the NBA Draft last June. Self's outfit wasn't the only way he got Kansas fans laughing. He starred in several video parodies of Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man” commercials, each celebrating the Jayhawks' decade of dominance in the Big 12. Said Self in the first one, “We don’t always win championships, but when we do, we prefer ten-straight.” Predictably, the crowd seemed to really enjoy this one. Added Self in the second one, “We don’t always wear jewelry, but when we do, we prefer a ring on each finger."

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'
Bill Self recreates Andrew Wiggins' infamous draft day outfit

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 11, 2014, 6:41 pm

Yahoo Sports will break down the top 10 leagues for the upcoming college hoops season working backward from No. 10 to No. 1. Here's a look at our No. 9 league, the Atlantic 10.

For a league that waved goodbye to longtime stalwarts Xavier and Temple and name-brand newcomer Butler before last season, the Atlantic 10 didn't take nearly as big a fall as many expected. 

Six Atlantic 10 teams made the NCAA tournament and Dayton advanced all the way to the Elite Eight as the Atlantic 10 finished sixth in conference RPI — ahead of the more heralded SEC and American Athletic Conference.

It's possible the Atlantic 10 maintains that level again this season, but it won't be easy considering the talent exodus the league endured this offseason. Twelve of the 15 players who made one of the Atlantic 10's three all-league teams last season are gone and two-time defending league champ Saint Louis is likely headed for a rebuilding season after graduating all five starters.

The program most likely to benefit from the roster turnover of its peers is VCU, which brings back six of its top eight scorers from an NCAA tournament team and adds the league's most highly rated recruiting class. The Rams should have ample motivation this season too after their 26-season ended in heartbreaking fashion last March when they blew a four-point final-minute lead in an opening-round overtime loss to 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin.

VCU's strength this season should be a deep, multi-talented backcourt. Point guard Briante Weber is built for the Rams' full-court trapping pressure, using his long arms, quick feet and ball-hawking instinct to rack up an incredible 121 steals per game last season. Leading scorer Treveon Graham is a nightmare to keep out of the lane, while fellow wings Melvin Johnson and Jordan Burgess excel from the perimeter. And point guard JeQuan Lewis should also see ample playing time with his ability to change speeds and leave defenders flat-footed.

The graduation of Juvonte Reddic is a significant loss in the frontcourt, but the Rams are well-equipped to replace him on the defensive end. Shot-blocking specialist Mo Allie-Cox should step into the role of rim protector, inspiring a "Mo says No!" chant from the VCU faithful whenever he rejects an opponent. But he wasn't much of a back-to-the-basket scorer last season, which could be an issue since the Rams lack anyone else with that skill set.

Should VCU fail to live up to expectations, there are a handful of contenders who should be hot on the Rams' heels.

The return of forward Dyshawn Pierre and guard Jordan Sibert gives Dayton a chance to build on last year's Elite Eight run despite the loss of three starters and its top reserve. UMass also could be a threat if athletic center Cady Lalanne builds on last year's breakout season and guards Jabarie Hinds and Derrick Gordon combine to compensate for the loss of all-conference point guard Chaz Williams. 

But the biggest threat to VCU may come from a George Washington program that ended a seven-year NCAA tournament drought last March and has no intention of being a one-hit wonder. Four experienced juniors return from a balanced, defensive-oriented team that won 24 games last season and went 14-1 at home.

From Rhode Island, to Richmond, to La Salle, to Saint Joseph's, there are a handful of potential surprise teams capable of cracking the top four and entering the NCAA tournament discussion. 

One of those dark horses emerging would help the A-10 immensely as it tries to build on its success from last season. The league wants to be a threat to send at least four or five teams to the NCAA tournament every season, but so many defections make that a challenge this year.

MAKING A LIST

Best shooter: Micah Mason, Duquesne. A series of health scares gave way to an encouraging sophomore season for Mason. The 6-foot-2 transfer from Drake led the nation in 3-point shooting last season, burying an absurd 56 percent of his shots from behind the arc. Mason credits his shooting stroke to all the hours he spent as a kid shooting on the hoop in his backyard.
Best playmaker: Joe McDonald, George Washington. With Chaz Williams, Jordair Jett and Charlon Kloof all having graduated this past spring, the candidates for this title are slim. The best of an unproven crop is McDonald, who averaged 8.3 points, 4.1 assists and 2.2 turnovers last season in his second year as a starter. McDonald is a steadying presence at the point, consistently finding open teammates, knocking down threes and playing solid defense.
Best defender: Briante Weber, VCU. The combination of VCU's swarming pressure defense and Weber's long arms and keen instincts has given opposing guards fits in recent years. The 6-foot-2 guard averaged a ridiculous 3.9 steals per game as a junior, far and away the best in the nation. He will start at point guard for the Rams again this season after serving a brief suspension to open the season.
Top NBA prospect: Deandre Bembry, Saint Joseph's. From Jameer Nelson, to Delonte West, to Langston Galloway, they've had some great players at Saint Joseph's in recent years. Bembry could be mentioned among them by the time he leaves. The 6-foot-6 small forward was named the Atlantic 10's co-freshman of the year after averaging 12.1 points and 4.5 rebounds last season on a senior-dominated team.
Best backcourt: VCU. Why are the Rams the A-10 favorites entering the season? They have unmatched depth and star power on the perimeter. Weber is a menace in the open floor on offense and one of the nation's elite perimeter defenders. Six-foot-6 senior Treveon Graham is VCU's leading scorer and maybe the best all-around player in the conference. Melvin Johnson and Jordan Burgess are both dangerous outside shooters, while JeQuan Lewis is a gifted ball handler, distributor and scorer. 
Best frontcourt: La Salle. Only two years ago La Salle made the Sweet 16 because of a multi-talented perimeter corps. Now the Explorers will rely on their frontcourt. Neither 6-foot-8 Jerrell Wright nor 6-foot-11 Steve Zack will ever be the most gifted players on the floor, but both are productive big men and hard workers. The crafty Wright averaged 13.3 points per game last season, while Zack blossomed into a double-double threat last season.
Best recruiting class: VCU. Even with as much veteran talent as VCU returns, it will be hard to keep the Rams' freshmen off the floor. Terry Larrier, Rivals.com's No. 43 recruit, is an athletic 6-foot-7 wing whose scoring ability and aggression on both ends of the floor should help him crack the rotation. Power forward Mike Gilmore, nephew of Artis Gilmore, is also a potential immediate contributor.
Coach on the rise: Archie Miller, Dayton. Long overshadowed by older brother Sean, Archie emerged as a coaching star in his own right last March when he led a balanced Dayton team to NCAA tournament wins over Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford. That Elite Eight run sparked interest from a handful of power-conference suitors this past spring, but Miller spurned them all to remain with a Dayton program that returns two starters and several key reserves from last year.
Coach on the hot seat: Paul Hewitt, George Mason. When Hewitt arrived at George Mason three years ago, he was confident he'd thrive at the mid-major power. "There's only one thing left for me to do in college basketball, and that's try to win a national championship," he said in Oct. 2011. "I feel like we can do that here." Not only has Hewitt not achieved that goal so far, he also hasn't even made the NCAA tournament. The Patriots went 11-20 in their first season in the Atlantic 10 last year and return just 44.1 percent of their scoring, not a good sign for a coach who may be shown the door if he doesn't show progress this season.

FACTS AND FIGURES

New coaches: none
Regular-season winner last season: Saint Louis
Tourney winner last season: St. Joseph's
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2013-14: 6th, 2012-13: 7th, 2011-12: 7th
NCAA bids the past three seasons: 15 (Saint Louis 3, VCU 2, Temple 2, UMass, Butler, La Salle, Xavier, St. Bonaventure, St. Joseph's, George Washington, Dayton)

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 10, 2014, 10:05 pm

Kyle Wiltjer has already proven he has no trouble sinking conventional long-range shots. Now he's showing he can increase the degree of difficulty too.

The Gonzaga forward released a video on his YouTube account Friday night in which he sinks a pair of behind-the-back half-court shots. The Guiness Book of World Records lists the previous record for longest behind-the-back shot at 23 feet, 9 inches by Kenneth Sorvang (Norway) in Dec. 2010.

Wiltjer's trick shot comes just a day after he released another video showing his prowess shooting in a more typical fashion. That clip showed him sinking 70 of 75 3-pointers from the top of the key in five minutes, an impressive enough effort that the YouTube video spread across social media in hours.

Wiltjer, the SEC's sixth man of the year at Kentucky during the 2012-13 season, transferred to Gonzaga 15 months ago in hopes of finding a program that would help him develop and showcase a superior all-around game. While he spent most of his year away from basketball getting stronger and quicker in hopes of improving his defense, rebounding and back-to-the-basket game, it's clear he won't abandon his bread and butter — long-range shooting — anytime soon

There's a good chance this won't be Wiltjer's last video release because he says he plans to take aim at a handful of shooting records in the coming days. That's good news for the rest of us because the first two attempts have been a lot of fun to watch.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Follow @JeffEisenberg

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 10, 2014, 6:36 pm

Our 2014-15 season preview continues with a look at transfers most likely to make an immediate impact next season. Check back every morning for the next five weeks for more college hoops preview content.

1. Trevor Lacey, G, NC State (From Alabama)

NC State players and coaches have insisted they intend to collectively replace ACC player of the year T.J. Warren's 24.9 points per game, but the truth is the burden will probably fall heaviest on one player's shoulders. Those belong to Lacey, the 6-foot-3 junior who will be counted on to evolve into a young team's go-to threat over the course of the season. The good news is Lacey is both talented enough and hard working enough to handle that responsibility. The former prized recruit started every game for Alabama as a sophomore, averaging 11.3 points and 3.2 assists and shooting 37.3 percent from behind the arc.

2. Bryce Dejean-Jones, G, Iowa State (From UNLV)

Of all the transfers Fred Hoiberg has landed since returning to Iowa State, Dejean-Jones may be the most high-risk, high-reward. He led UNLV in scoring last season at 13.6 points per game, but the combination of Iowa State's freewheeling system and his tendency to take ill-advised shots at an alarming rate has the potential to be problematic. Assuming Hoiberg can get Dejean-Jones to play within the system, the 6-foot-6 shooting guard has the potential to help replace much of the perimeter production lost when Deandre Kane graduated. Dejean-Jones can score off the dribble or via a streaky jump shot.

3. Anthony Lee, F, Ohio State (From Temple)

Neither of Ohio State's returning big man managed to even score a point in a season-ending NCAA tournament loss to Dayton last March, so the Buckeyes definitely entered the offseason knowing they needed to bolster their frontcourt. They did so quickly too, outdueling the likes of Louisville, Indiana and Iowa State to land Lee after the 6-foot-9 forward decided he didn't want to spend his final collegiate season at Temple. A quick, versatile forward, Lee is an inside-outside scoring threat who will also deliver some badly needed help on the glass. He averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds at Temple last season while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field.

4. Angel Rodriguez, G, Miami (From Kansas State)

Assuming lingering knee and wrist injuries don't hamper him this season, Rodriguez should serve as the offensive and defensive catalyst for a guard-oriented Miami team. The former second-team all-Big-12 selection at Kansas State averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists in his final season with the Wildcats, excelling as an on-ball defender and leading the team in 3-pointers, assists and steals. Rodriguez is part of a talented backcourt that could propel Miami into NCAA tournament contention this season. Manu Lecompte will either back up Rodriguez or start alongside him, while wings Deandre Burnett, Ja’Quan Newton and Sheldon McClellan are each gifted scorers.

5. Kyle Wiltjer, F, Gonzaga (From Kentucky)

The version of Wilter who starts for Gonzaga this year ought to be more well-rounded than the player who left Kentucky 15 months ago. No longer is Wiltjer content to be a spot-up shooter who is neither strong enough to hold position in the paint nor quick enough to defend his position on the perimeter. A year of eating healthier, doing yoga and working in the weight room has Wiltjer confident that he'll be able to shed the label of defensive liability and exploit mismatches against smaller defenders in the paint. If so, that would be great news for a deep, talented Gonzaga team with Final Four aspirations this season.

6. Rodney Purvis, G, UConn (From NC State)

Since Purvis performed so well on UConn's scout team while sitting out last season, Huskies coach Kevin Ollie began referring to the 6-foot-3 former McDonald's All-American as  "a Ferrari sitting in the garage that I can't drive." Expect Ollie to get plenty of mileage out of Purvis this season as UConn tries to defend its national championship. Though Purvis started 23 games at NC State as a freshman and averaged 8.3 points per game, he felt he could have accomplished so much more in an offense that offered him more opportunities to create off the dribble. He and fellow guards Ryan Boatright and Daniel Hamilton should have plenty of chances at UConn as the Huskies try to replace All-American Shabazz Napier.

7. Cody Doolin, G UNLV (From San Francisco)

Though Dave Rice has recruited a bevy of highly rated wings and big men during his UNLV tenure, the one thing his past few Rebels teams have lacked is a pass-first point guard with the unselfishness and leadership skills to bring out the best in his talented teammates. That will change this year thanks to the addition of Doolin, a pure point guard who averaged 13 points and 7 assists for San Francisco last season before leaving the program in December. Doolin's arrival is well-timed for a UNLV program that lost all five starters from last year's disappointing season and will likely start three talented but inexperienced freshmen. The senior point guard's work ethic and vocal leadership should serve that group well.

8. Byron Wesley, G, Gonzaga (From USC)

The addition of USC's leading scorer is huge for Gonzaga because the 6-foot-5 senior potentially shores up a traditional area of weakness for the Zags. Mark Few has developed many skilled big men and quality guards, but Gonzaga has often lacked a small forward with high-major athleticism who is capable of both creating his own shot on offense and defending his position Put Wesley into a Gonzaga backcourt that already includes three-year starters Kevin Pangosand Gary Bell, and the Zags now have a sweet-shooting senior point guard and two wings who can sink open shots, attack the rim and defend opposing perimeter threats. Wesley, who averaged a team-high 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds last season, chose Gonzaga over Pittsburgh and Oklahoma State.

9. Angelo Chol, F, San Diego State (From Arizona)

The addition of Chol is more impactful for San Diego State than his modest scoring and rebounding numbers at Arizona would suggest. A former top 100 recruit who chose Arizona over the likes of Kansas and North Carolina, Chol was buried behind a slew of elite big men in Tucson and often was yanked off the floor as soon as he missed a defensive rotation or had a ball squirt off his hands. There should be more opportunity for Chol at San Diego State, where he will probably start at power forward and have the chance to play through his mistakes. His jump shot and back-to-the-basket offense has improved since his Arizona days and the pairing of him and shot-blocking big man Skylar Spencer makes a formidable defensive duo.

10. Matt Carlino, G, Marquette (From BYU)

Having lost its only three double-digit scorers from last season's cold-shooting team, Marquette desperately needed to add a perimeter scorer or two to its roster. New coach Steve Wojciechowski has probably found one in BYU transfer Matt Carlino. While Carlino was a polarizing player for BYU fans due to the high expectations they had for him and his occasional exasperating bad shots and turnovers, the truth is his scoring instinct will be welcome at Marquette. Carlino, who averaged 13.7 points and 4.3 assists last season, can either play off ball alongside point guard Derrick Wilson or return to point guard with Duane Wilson at off guard.

11. Katin Reinhardt, G, USC (From UNLV)

USC's chances of taking a step forward in year two under Andy Enfield depend on a pair of promising guards. One is freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin, the Trojans' most prized recruit. The other is Reinhardt, a combo guard whose scoring ability made him a consensus top 75 prospect during high school. Reinhardt averaged 10.1 points per game as a volume-shooting freshman at UNLV, but left the Rebels because he felt he had been pigeonholed into a catch-and-shoot role there. He hopes to show more playmaking ability off the dribble in USC's freewheeling system, in addition to playing improved defense and more consistently knocking down open shots.

12. Antoine Mason, G, Auburn (From Niagara)

The son of former New York Knicks forward Anthony Mason is the biggest reason Auburn has a chance to ascend a rung or two in the SEC during year one under Bruce Pearl. The younger Mason averaged an eye-popping 25.6 points per game as a junior, second only to national player of the year Doug McDermott of Creighton. What's more, the 6-foot-1 guard shot a respectable 44 percent despite being the only player to average double figures for a Niagara team that went 7-26 last season. Mason will have more help at Auburn than he did at Niagara with junior college prospect Cinmeon Bowers and New Mexico State transfer KC Ross-Miller also coming aboard, but he'll still be counted on to do plenty of damage himself.

13. Kedren Johnson, G, Memphis (From Vanderbilt)

The graduation of its top four guards from last season won't hurt Memphis nearly as much after the good news the program received last week. Johnson was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA, enabling him to likely step right in and start at point guard for the Tigers. Had Johnson not gotten his waiver, Memphis probably would have no choice but to turn the point guard position over to inexperienced 6-foot-1 sophomore Pookie Powell. Instead they can let Powell come off the bench behind Johnson, who led Vanderbilt in scoring (13.5 points per game), assists (3.6) and steals (34) in 2012-13 but was suspended for the entire 2013-14 season for violating a university non-academic policy.

14. Justin Martin, F, SMU (From Xavier)

Overshadowed by the newcomer SMU lost this summer was the potential contributions of the one the Mustangs added. Martin may not be the No. 1 point guard prospect in the nation like Emmanuel Mudiay was, but the 6-foot-6 small forward was an impact player for Xavier last season. A well-rounded wing capable of scoring off the dribble or via his jump shot, Martin averaged 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds this past season, complementing star guard Semaj Christon by scoring in double figures in 16 of his final 21 games. He also visited West Virginia and Florida State before selecting SMU.

15. Anthony Hickey, G, Oklahoma State (From LSU)

Marcus Smart left for the NBA. Stevie Clark was kicked off the team. Jawun Evans won't arrive in Stillwater until next fall. With Oklahoma State in dire need of a point guard this season, the Cowboys found a perfect stop gap in Hickey. The senior averaged 8.4 points, 3.7 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals while starting 31 games for the Tigers last season, posting an SEC-best 2.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in conference play. The big question with Hickey is whether he'll be able to avoid the off-court issues that plagued him at his former program. A three-year starter for LSU, Hickey had his scholarship revoked for disciplinary reasons this summer.

Other transfers who will make an impact: Keith Hornsby, G, LSU; Aaron Cosby, G, Illinois; Ahmad Starks, G, Illinois; Trey Zeigler, G, TCU; Robert Upshaw, F, Washington; Ricky Tarrant, G, Alabama, Stanton Kidd, F, Colorado State; Sheldon McClellan, G Miami; Jabarie Hinds, G, UMass; Hunter Mickelson, F, Kansas; Bryn Forbes, G, Michigan State; Deuce Bello, G, Missouri; Antwan Scott, G, Colorado State; Roddy Peters, G, South Florida; Ian Chiles, G, Tennessee; Robert Carter, F, Maryland; Savon Goodman, F, Arizona State; Joe Coleman, G, Saint Mary's.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 9, 2014, 9:19 pm

Many coaches who flourish early in their tenure can point to landing a program-changing recruit as a pivotal moment in their success.

For new Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski, power forward Henry Ellenson could be that guy.

Ellenson, Rivals.com's No. 17 recruit in the class of 2015, committed to Marquette on Thursday, choosing the Golden Eagles over fellow finalists Kentucky and Michigan State. The skilled 6-foot-10 Wisconsin native is the fourth Rivals 150 prospect Wojciechowski has landed in this class, joining shooting guard Haanif Cheatham and fellow Wisconsin products point guard Nick Noskowiak and center Matt Heldt.

That loaded recruiting class should help Wojciechowski reinvigorate a program that endured a rare down season in Buzz Williams' final year and may have to withstand another one this year. Marquette lost its three leading scorers from an unremarkable team that finished 17-15 and ended the program's eight-year streak of making the NCAA tournament.

While not even the addition of BYU transfer Matt Carlino is likely to help Marquette contend in the Big East this season, it should be easy for fans to be patient with Wojciechowski given the recruiting class he has assembled for the following year. He has sent a message to other top programs that it won't be easy to get top Wisconsin prospects to leave the state.

Ellenson is an especially significant addition because of his versatile offensive repertoire. He's at his best on the low block with his back to the basket, but he also has the ability to knock down jump shots or face the basket and attack. Wojciechowski wisely identified Ellenson as a top target immediately after being hired this past spring, even adding the big man's brother Wally via transfer from Minnesota in July.

The commitment from Ellenson also helps refute the notion that the new Big East won't be able to compete with other major conferences on the recruiting trail.

Earlier this fall, Villanova already landed Jalen Brunson, the top committed point guard in the Class of 2015. Now Marquette has an elite power forward, a star-studded class and hope that the rough patch it endured last season will be only temporary.  

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 9, 2014, 3:30 pm

The first time he suffered through the drill last winter, Kyle Wiltjer thought it was needlessly sadistic.

Gonzaga strength coach Travis Knight positioned Wiltjer directly in front of him and hurled a 20-pound leather medicine ball over and over at the 6-foot-10 forward's chest. Wiltjer had to unflinchingly absorb each blow, let the ball fall to the ground and steady himself quickly enough to scoop it up before it bounced a second time.

"I didn't think it would help at all at first," Wiltjer said. "I didn't really see how it would translate. But after a while, I realized I was becoming much more comfortable with contact in the post. It helped me a lot on box-outs and holding my position on defense."

Simulating the bruising physicality of the paint with blows from a medicine ball is one small part of Wiltjer's efforts to reinvent himself while sitting out last season following his transfer from Kentucky to Gonzaga.

No longer is Wiltjer content to be known as a skilled but soft spot-up shooter more comfortable floating to the perimeter than fighting for position near the rim. The former prized recruit intends to use his fresh start at Gonzaga to shed the label of defensive liability and reemerge as a more well-rounded scoring threat versatile enough to rain down threes, aggressively attack the rim or score with his back to the basket.

To accomplish those goals this season, Wiltjer first had to commit to changing his body.

He began working out with Knight twice a day soon after arriving at Gonzaga 13 months ago, focusing on everything from correcting his awkward running style, to improving his mobility and lateral quickness, to adding lean muscle mass so he wouldn't be pushed around in the paint so easily. Yoga sessions and a healthier diet have also helped Wiltjer gradually move more freely, increase his bench press and vertical leap and develop superior strength and lateral quickness.

"His movement when he first got here was painful," Knight said. "Nothing was easy or smooth or natural. Everything seemed to be held back, whether his knees bothered him or his hips or his back. He moved like a guy that was a lot older than he was. To see him go from that to now where he's making hard cuts to the basket and finishing with ease with a dunk on every play, that's his biggest improvement. He just looks so smooth, natural and effortless now."

If Wiltjer's hard work enables him to become a more multidimensional player this season, that would be a huge boost for a Gonzaga program with Final Four aspirations.

Wiltjer is likely to start at power forward, giving the Zags an inside-outside threat to pair with mammoth 7-footer Przemek Karnowski in their frontcourt. The Gonzaga staff wants Wiltjer to embrace his ability to create mismatches, whether it's using his newfound strength to overpower a smaller defender on the low block or exploiting a lumbering big man's inability to chase him around screens or stay in front of him off the dribble.

"It's easy for someone to say they're going to be motivated during a redshirt year, but Kyle really followed through," Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said. "Kyle is extremely motivated. He put in a ton of time, whether it's doubling up with our strength coach or coming in on his own at night and shooting or grabbing coaches for individual workouts. He really took advantage of his redshirt. Now he's set up to have a great finish to his college basketball career here at Gonzaga."

Part of Wiltjer's training this past year included taking up yoga (via @kwiltj)Coming to Gonzaga wasn't an easy decision for Wiltjer because it pained him to leave Kentucky.

Wiltjer served as a shooter off the bench for Kentucky's 2012 national championship team as a freshman and received the SEC's sixth man of the year award as a sophomore after averaging 10.2 points and 4.2 rebounds. He also had such a good relationship with coach John Calipari and many of his teammates that they still keep in contact regularly to this day.

What made Wiltjer ponder a transfer after the 2012-13 season was the fear that he would never reach his full potential if he remained with the Wildcats. Not only was his playing time likely to diminish the following season with another decorated freshman class set to arrive, he and his family also feared he wouldn't receive the specialized strength training he needed at Kentucky in order to revamp his body and revive his hopes of playing in the NBA someday.

"It's a very tough thing to give up Kentucky because he had a great experience there," Greg Wiltjer, Kyle's father, said. "But he wanted the best shot of playing at the next level and at the end of his sophomore season, people in high-level basketball told him, 'Your biggest challenge is your body.' He felt he couldn't fix that at Kentucky, so we started thinking about who had the best situation?"

One of the first options to emerge was Gonzaga, which was only an hour flight from Wiltjer's family home in Portland, had heavily recruited him in high school and had a style of play that fit his strengths. The Zags became even more appealing to Wiltjer when he developed tremendous on-court chemistry with point guard Kevin Pangos while playing for the Canadian National Team and when he learned more about the story of 2012-13 All-American Kelly Olynyk.

A finesse-oriented big man who preferred the perimeter to the paint during his first two years at Gonzaga, Olynyk spent a redshirt season working with Knight, building muscle and improving his interior game. The payoff for Olynyk was a sudden ascent from overlooked backup to college basketball's most improved player to 2013 NBA first-round draft pick — exactly the sort of path Wiltjer would love to follow.    

"Both of us being involved in the Canadian program, I saw his improvement up close," Wiltjer said. "He looked so much better and that was definitely intriguing to me. I actually talked to him about redshirting at Gonzaga and all he had was good things to say. He said, 'It was a really tough year, and you have to know what you're getting yourself into but if you go through with it, make sure you utilize every day.'

Once Wiltjer stopped wavering and decided to go through with the transfer, he quickly learned Olynyk wasn't kidding about the challenges of working daily with Knight. The Gonzaga strength coach identified every one of Wiltjer's weaknesses on film even before he arrived on campus and tore into the Kentucky transfer when he wasn't initially as self-motivated as Olynyk had been.  

"Kyle's work ethic at the beginning wasn't at the level that a transformation like this requires," Knight said. "We knew we had to increase that. That was a big focal point. We went from working out every day to working out twice a day. We understood, hey, this isn't happening fast enough or to the level we need, so what are we going to do about it? There was definitely a natural evolution. Once he started seeing changes, it was easier to convince him to do more."

The first big change was simply that Wiltjer began to move more freely and less rigidly. Improvements in his vertical leap, his bench-press scores and his body fat index soon followed. He still doesn't show much conspicuous muscle gain, but those who have seen him play insist the difference the skill and strength training has made is obvious.

"I think you're just going to see a more well-rounded kid," said Greg Wiltjer, himself a former center for the Canadian national team. "I've been in the gym with him a little bit, and I definitely think he's stronger, he's wiser, he's more efficient and he defends better. And I think he's going to be more durable. He'll be able to get deeper into the season with less fatigue and less injury."

Having gone 18 months without playing in a meaningful game as a result of his transfer, Wiltjer is just excited for the season to finally start next month.

At long last, his game days won't consist of more medicine balls to the chest. Now he can finally unveil Kyle Wiltjer 2.0 — a superior all-around player who can still light it up from the perimeter when he needs to but can also defend, rebound and score with his back to the basket.

"I feel like I've improved a lot this past year and I also think the team around me is even better than I expected," Wiltjer said. "It's very exciting. I can't wait to get back on the floor."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 8, 2014, 5:34 pm

Bowing to withering public criticism over its attempt to prevent standout women's basketball player Daisha Simmons from playing for Seton Hall this season, Alabama has changed its stance. 

Athletic director Bill Battle released a statement Tuesday night saying it now supports Simmons' request for a waiver from the NCAA allowing her to be eligible to play for the Pirates this season. It's now up to the NCAA whether it will grant Simmons' request. 

"Much of the University's original decision not to endorse a waiver was based on the fact that Miss Simmons declined to provide any information supporting her reasoning for seeking a waiver," Battle said. "This was despite requests to obtain documentation verifying hardship to support a waiver request. Miss Simmons was told repeatedly of the requirements needed to obtain the waiver, as well as how such requirements were needed to justify the institution's endorsement of such a waiver. She refused to provide this, despite several opportunities and requests to do so."

Simmons completed her undergraduate degree at Alabama this past spring and decided in late May to transfer to Seton Hall so she could play her final season of college basketball closer to her New Jersey home. She told the Asbury Park Press last week that her motivation for leaving Alabama stemmed from not getting into the MBA program she wanted to pursue and wanting to be closer to her older brother, who has end-stage renal disease and requires kidney dialysis several times per week.

Whereas most graduate transfers are automatically eligible to play immediately for their new school as long as they enter a graduate program unavailable at their previous institution, NCAA rules dictate that Simmons had to request a waiver because Seton Hall is her third school, not her second. Simmons told SwishAppeal.com earlier this week that Alabama was fully aware of her family's medical issues when coach Kristy Curry refused to sign the waiver.

"I've been hearing that Associate Athletic Director Shane Lyons and individuals at UA have been telling reporters and others in private that I did not inform them specifically on my family issues," Simmons said in a statement to Swish Appeal. "This is 100% false and it is unfortunate to be in a predicament where I have to prove that I did in fact tell the committee board at UA what my family issues were during the time I was asking for my release.

"Although I am not particular happy with having to prove I am telling the truth, my family and I will not stand for people telling lies about me. It is unfortunate that this situation has escalated to this point, all I wanted to do was to be able to move on with my life."

The fight between Simmons and Alabama led to a torrent of negative publicity for the Crimson Tide. College basketball luminaries from Jay Bilas, to Fran Fraschilla, to Dick Vitale have each ripped Alabama for putting its own interest above the happiness of one of its former student-athletes.

Battle initially told the Asbury Park Press last week he supported not signing off on Simmons' waiver request because the timing of her transfer "left little or no time for the women’s basketball team to make alternate plans to replace her." Alabama president Judy Bonner rejected a request to revisit the matter on Monday, saying she considers the matter "closed."

It's good that Alabama drew enough criticism for its stance to reconsider, but it's still alarming how often situations like this are happening.

Wisconsin endured a spate of negative publicity in 2012 after preventing promising freshman forward Jarrod Uthoff from reaching out to Marquette, Iowa State and every school in the Big Ten and ACC. Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli became talk show fodder the previous winter for refusing to sign the paperwork needed to allow transfer Todd O'Brien to play at Alabama-Birmingham. And earlier this year, Kansas State declined star guard Leticia Romero's transfer request for weeks before finally conceding to withering national criticism and allowing her to leave. 

Perhaps the attention these transfer sagas have received will highlight the need for reform.

Coaches don't require the permission of their former players to leave for a new job. Why should a transfer be required to seek his or her former coach's permission to leave for the school of his or her choice?

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 8, 2014, 1:18 am

Too many of today's college basketball coaches share something in common with scorned lovers, overeager job applicants and annoying door-to-door salesmen.

They don't handle rejection gracefully.

Alabama women's basketball coach Kristy Curry's attempt to prevent standout guard Daisha Simmons from playing for Seton Hall this season is the latest shameful example. 

Simmons completed her undergraduate degree at Alabama this past spring and decided in late May to transfer to Seton Hall so she could play her final season of college basketball closer to her New Jersey home. She told the Asbury Park Press last week that her motivation for leaving Alabama stemmed from not getting into the MBA program she wanted to pursue and wanting to be closer to her older brother, who has end-stage renal disease and requires kidney dialysis several times per week.

Whereas most graduate transfers are automatically eligible to play immediately for their new school as long as they enter a graduate program unavailable at their previous institution, NCAA rules dictate that Simmons had to request a waiver because Seton Hall is her third school, not her second. The waiver should have been a foregone conclusion except that Curry refused to sign it and Alabama administrators so far, remarkably, have backed her up on that decision.

Alabama athletic director Bill Battle told the Asbury Park Press he supported not signing off on Simmons' transfer because the timing "left little or no time for the women’s basketball team to make alternate plans to replace her." Alabama president Judy Bonner rejected a request to revisit the matter on Monday, saying she considers the matter "closed."

An Alabama spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email from Yahoo Sports seeking further comment from either Curry or Battle. Perhaps more information will emerge that will help explaine the rationale behind how they've handled this situation, but at this point it's hard to imagine there's anything either could say to justify their stance.

Does Curry have a right to be upset about losing Simmons? Of course. She averaged 13.8 points and 4.3 assists as a junior for Alabama and figured to be one of the best players on the Crimson Tide again this coming season.

Does Curry have good reason to take out her anger on Simmons by attempting to keep her from playing at Seton Hall next season? Heck no, and she's abusing her power by doing so. All Simmons is doing is the same thing that Curry did when she left Texas Tech for Alabama in May 2013 — taking advantage of a better opportunity available to her elsewhere.

In reality, Curry and Alabama have almost nothing to gain from their stance. Not only does Simmons appear to have no interest in returning to the Crimson Tide, the school is also enduring a torrent of negative publicity as a result of its decision. College basketball luminaries from Jay Bilas, to Fran Fraschilla, to Dick Vitale have each ripped Alabama for putting its own interest above the happiness of one of its former student-athletes.

The NCAA, to its credit, stepped in and ruled that Simmons can sit out this year and still play for Seton Hall during the 2015-16 season should she choose to do that. Nonetheless, while that's better than nothing, the NCAA doesn't deserve a free pass since it's the one whose rules make it possible for coaches to restrict freedom of movement for athletes in the first place.

Wisconsin endured a spate of negative publicity in 2012 after preventing promising freshman forward Jarrod Uthoff from reaching out to Marquette, Iowa State and every school in the Big Ten and ACC. Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli became talk show fodder the previous winter for refusing to sign the paperwork needed to allow transfer Todd O'Brien to play at Alabama-Birmingham. And earlier this year, Kansas State declined star guard Leticia Romero's transfer request for weeks before finally conceding to withering national criticism and allowing her to leave. 

The only silver lining to all these cases is they continue to shine a spotlight on how one-sided the rules are in favor of coaches and administrators and against athletes.

There's no reason that a transfer should need his or her former coach's permission to leave for the school of his or her choice. It gives far too much power to coaches, who, as we've seen time and time again in recent years, seldom handle break-ups gracefully. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 7, 2014, 6:34 pm

Yahoo Sports will break down the top 10 leagues for the upcoming college basketball season working backward from No. 10 to No. 1. Here's a look at our No. 10 league, the West Coast Conference.

Any slim chance Gonzaga's peers had of loosening its chokehold on the WCC title probably disappeared this offseason by the time Mark Few finished restocking the Zags' roster.

Few added several potential impact transfers and one of his best recruiting classes in recent memory to a roster that returns three starters from a 29-win season.

The most significant addition is probably former five-star recruit Kyle Wiltjer, a 6-foot-9 Kentucky transfer hoping for a Kelly Olynyk-esque jump after redshirting last season. Wiltjer, an inside-outside threat with a lethal 3-point shot, should start at power forward and provide a perfect complement to physical 7-footer Przemek Karnowski, who does all his damage with his back to the basket in the paint.

The other key transfer is 6-foot-5 wing Byron Wesley, a three-year starter at USC who averaged a team-high 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds this past season. Wesley should start in the backcourt alongside returning standouts Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell and potentially shores up a traditional area of weakness for the Zags. Few has developed many skilled big men and quality guards, but Gonzaga has often lacked a small forward with high-major athleticism who is capable of both creating his own shot and defending the opposing team's top perimeter threat.

Though none of Gonzaga's incoming freshmen are likely to start, several could make immediate contributions off the bench.

Slick-passing four-star point guard Josh Perkins likely will spell Pangos or play alongside him, relieving him of ball handling duties the same way David Stockton did in previous years. And 6-foot-11 Domantis Sabonis, the son of former NBA center Arvydas Sabonis, is a polished, skilled forward with high-level experience, having played in Spain's top division last season.

Assuming the newcomers meet expectations and Pangos and Bell avoid the nagging injuries that have hampered them in the past, Gonzaga has a chance to match its exploits of two years ago when it won 30-plus games and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Of course, that team famously fell to Wichita State in the round of 32, an outcome that added to the Zags' reputation as March underachievers and increased the pressure on future teams to avoid such early-round flame outs.

Of the other upper-echelon teams in the WCC this year, BYU probably has the best chance to capitalize if Gonzaga unexpectedly falters.

Reigning WCC player of the year Tyler Haws highlights an excellent backcourt that also includes versatile Kyle Collinsworth, one of the only players in the nation to lead his team in both rebounds (8.1 per game) and assists (4.6). The question will be whether the Cougars have enough frontcourt talent to replace standout freshman Eric Mika, who left for a two-year Mormon mission. Defensive-minded 7-footer Nate Austin should start at one spot, while the candidates at the other spot include sophomore Luke Worthington, UNLV transfer Jamal Aytes and freshman Isaac Neilson.

The third contender is Saint Mary's, which finished a disappointing 11-7 in league play last season but hopes the combination of all-conference big man Brad Waldow and a few high-major transfers can fuel a bounce-back season. Ex-Minnesota guard Joe Coleman is a 6-4 slashing wing who should start and provide much-needed perimeter scoring, while ex-Stanford point guard Aaron Bright and ex-Washington forward Desmond Simmons also should contribute heavily.

The teams with the best chance to crack the top three in the WCC besides Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary's are Portland, San Francisco and San Diego. Portland returns seven of its top eight players from a team that climbed in the standings last year, San Diego has one of the league's best and most exciting backcourts and San Francisco returns three starters from a team that finished tied for second with BYU a year ago. The trouble for the Dons is that the graduation of all-WCC forward Cole Dickerson and the transfer of Avry Holmes could be tough to replace.

MAKING A LIST

Best shooter: Johnny Dee, San Diego. The 6-foot senior led the nation in free throw shooting last season at 93.9 percent and is already the Torereros' all-time leader in made 3-pointers. He hones his textbook shooting stroke every day in practice with shooting competitions against teammate and roommate Nick Kerr, the son of former Chicago Bulls shooter extraordinaire Steve Kerr.
Tyler Haws (Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)Best playmaker: Christopher Anderson, San Diego. In a league loaded with quality point guards last season, the best playmaker was a 5-foot-7, 150-pound junior who only had two scholarship offers in high school. The short but speedy Anderson excels at beating bigger guards off the dribble and creating opportunities for his teammates. Not only were his 5.9 assists per game last season the best in the WCC, he also posted a league-best 2.25-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Best defender: Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga. No WCC big man intimidates opposing players around the rim more than Karnowski. Gonzaga's Polish 7-footer blocked 7 shots in a late-December victory over Saint Mary's last season and smothered all-conference Gaels big man Brad Waldow with his size and length in two of the three matchups between the rivals last year. He also chipped in 7.1 rebounds per game last season. 
Top NBA prospect: Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga. Buried behind Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris and Sam Dower in the Gonzaga rotation as a freshman, Karnowski assumed a far bigger role as a sophomore. The 7-foot-1 center averaged 10.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks and shot 59.3 percent from the floor. He's hardly a lock for the NBA — he's foul-prone, his free throw shooting is an abomination and he can generously be described as "lumbering" rather than "athletic" — but at his size, with the ability to score over either shoulder, he'll get a look.
Best backcourt: BYU. Choosing between San Diego, Gonzaga and BYU isn't easy, but the nod goes to the Cougars assuming Kyle Collinsworth returns from his ACL tear at a similar level to last season. WCC player of the year Tyler Haws averaged the third-most points in the nation last season without sacrificing efficiency, the versatile Collinsworth can defend four positions and was among the WCC's leaders in scoring, rebounding and assists and Anson Winder is a solid defender who finished last season strong. Wake Forest transfer Chase Fischer also could contribute because of his outside shooting prowess. 
Best frontcourt: Gonzaga. What's exciting about Gonzaga's frontcourt is not just the talent and skill but how well the pieces fit together. Karnowski is a physical back-to-the-basket center who thrives around the rim. Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer is a classic inside-outside threat who's most comfortable shooting from the perimeter but spent much of his redshirt year working on scoring around the rim. And 6-foot-11 freshman Domantas Sabonis, son of former NBA big man Arvydas Sabonis, gives the Zags another promising big man off the bench.
Best recruiting class: It's Gonzaga, and it's not even close. Sabonis is a skilled, polished forward who should have little trouble adjusting to high-level college basketball after playing in Spain's first division for a full season. Josh Perkins is a four-star point guard with excellent court vision and a knack for making sensational passes. Both should receive immediate playing time off the bench, as perhaps could fellow freshman Silas Melson.
Coach on the rise: Rex Walters, San Francisco. In a league with a clear separation between Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary's and everyone else over the years, it's difficult for other coaches to keep their jobs, let alone ascend in the industry. Santa Clara's Kerry Keating and Portland's Eric Reveno have enjoyed fleeting success in the past, but the coach that has accomplished the most of late is Walters. The WCC's reigning coach of the year led the Dons to a 13-5 league record last season and to 20-win seasons two of the past three years, though frequent player defections have hurt his perception.
Coach on the hot seat: There's no WCC coach whose job is clearly on the line this season, but San Diego's Bill Grier and Portland's Eric Reveno probably don't want to chance it by back-sliding too far. Grier received a contract extension in June after leading  San Diego to the quarterfinals of the third-tier CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Reveno enjoyed success early in his tenure at Portland but had fallen on hard times before the Pilots overcame injuries to win seven league games last season and offer hope of a return to prominence this season. 

FACTS AND FIGURES

New coaches: Mike Dunlap (LMU)
Regular-season winner last season: Gonzaga
Tourney winner last season: Gonzaga
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 2013-14: 9th, 2012-13: 10th, 2011-12: 11th
NCAA bids the past three seasons: 7 (Gonzaga 3, Saint Mary's 2, BYU 2)

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 7, 2014, 3:25 pm

Our 2014-15 season preview begins with the Dagger's Preseason Top 25 complete with best-case and worst-case scenarios for each team. Check back every day for the next six weeks for more college hoops preview content.

1. KENTUCKY
Last year's record: 29-11, 12-6
Key returners: G Andrew Harrison, G Aaron Harrison, C Willie Cauley-Stein, C Dakari Johnson, F Alex Poythress, F Marcus Lee
Notable newcomers: G Tyler Ulis, G Devin Booker F Trey Lyles F Karl-Anthony Towns
Best-case scenario: Only one NBA team had as many former McDonald's All-Americans on its roster last season as Kentucky will this year, and it shows. The deep, experienced Wildcats overwhelm opponents with their size and talent, winning all but a handful of their SEC games by double figures en route to a league title. Aaron Harrison picks up where he left off in March, leading the Wildcats in scoring, displaying improved leadership and making a strong case for national player of the year honors. And when he has a rare off night shooting the ball, it seldom matters because Poythress and Lee gobble up offensive rebounds and Kentucky's trio of 7-foot centers make it tough for opponents to score at the rim. The NCAA tournament serves as a Kentucky coronation as the Wildcats romp to their ninth national championship, eliminating rival Louisville and avenging last year's loss to UConn along the way. The decision to return to school pays off for the Harrisons, Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson as all four are selected in the first round of the NBA draft. That is not lost on Booker, Lyles, Lee and Ulis, who each show patience and return to school to take a run at a repeat title and to have their chance at starring roles in Lexington. The good feelings extend to John Calipari, who signs another contract extension without even bothering to explore NBA options.
Worst-case scenario: For Kentucky, the problem with not having its usual mass exodus of superstars last spring is that the roster is actually too loaded. With nine McDonald's All-Americans and another near-certain first-round pick in Cauley-Stein, there simply isn't enough playing time to keep everyone satisfied – especially in the frontcourt. Poythress' inability to either shoot from the perimeter or stay in front of opposing wings forces Calipari to play him exclusively at power forward, leaving the Wildcats with six big men and only 80 minutes to split between them. Johnson balks at being demoted to third-string center and neither Lyles nor Lee are happy with their limited roles either. Chemistry issues and erratic perimeter shooting cost the Wildcats some regular season games against lesser-talented teams, but Calipari promises to make another late-season "tweak" and Kentucky vows to pull it together in March just like it did the previous year. Alas, this year it's not to be. Aaron Harrison can't recapture his clutch shooting from last year as he misfires repeatedly down the stretch and the Wildcats fall in the Sweet 16. Rex Chapman floats another crazy rumor before the national title game that Calipari is NBA-bound ... only this time it's true. Calipari bolts a few days later and most of his roster follows.

2. ARIZONA
Last year's record: 33-5, 15-3
Key returners: G T.J. McConnell, G/F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, F Brandon Ashley, C Kaleb Tarczewski, G Gabe York, G Eliott Pitts
Notable newcomers: G Stanley Johnson, F Craig Victor, G Parker Jackson-Cartwright, C Dusan Ristic, G Kadeem Allen
Best-case scenario: Having reached five Sweet 16s and three Elite Eights without ever advancing to college basketball's grandest stage, Sean Miller enters the season with a strong claim to the title of best coach never to make the Final Four. By April, Miller sheds that bittersweet label thanks to a roster with both depth and star power. McDonald's All-American Stanley Johnson establishes himself as an explosive scorer capable of stepping into the go-to role Nick Johnson filled last season. Hollis-Jefferson enjoys a breakout season as a high-energy slasher and defensive stopper. A healthy Ashley provides rebounding and some of the pick-and-pop outside shooting the Wildcats lacked without him last season. Tarczewski protects the rim and delivers back-to-the-basket scoring. And McConnell is the glue that holds it altogether with his distributing, leadership and timely outside shooting. Fueled by that quintet, Arizona storms to another Pac-12 title, earns the No. 1 seed in the West and survives yet another back-and-forth Elite Eight game to finally get the monkey off Miller's back. Pressure alleviated, the Wildcats go two wins further, capturing the national title and avenging last year's loss to Wisconsin in the process. The entire starting five graduates or turns pro, but no matter — a No. 1 recruiting class arrives in Tucson ready to lead another charge.
Worst-case scenario:
Miller has to wait another year to shed the label of "Best coach without a Final Four" because Arizona's deep, talented roster fails to meet expectations. Johnson is not quite as good as projected like so many other Mater Dei products and proves ill-prepared to assume the role of go-to scorer as a freshman. Hollis-Jefferson remains a jack of all trades but still is neither a competent outside shooter nor an explosive scorer. Ashley's foot injury becomes a recurring issue and McConnell's passing ability goes to waste on a roster lacking enough half-court scoring weapons. Excellent defense and transition offense still carries Arizona to a top-three finish in the Pac-12 and an NCAA tournament bid, but the idea of salvaging a sub-par season with a deep March run never materializes. First comes a Pac-12 tournament loss to UCLA for a third straight season. Then the Wildcats don't get last year's fan-friendly San Diego-to-Orange County NCAA tournament draw and bow out meekly in front of a hostile crowd back east. The departure of all five starters is mitigated somewhat by the arrival of another decorated recruiting class, but Arizona fans still are left with some nagging concerns. If Miller couldn't get the Wildcats to the Final Four with the wealth of talent he had in 2014 and 2015, will he ever do it in Tucson? 

3. WISCONSIN
Last year's record: 30-8, 12-6
Key returners: G Traveon Jackson, G Josh Gasser, F Sam Dekker, F Frank Kaminsky F Nigel Hayes, G Bronson Koenig, F Vitto Brown
Notable newcomers: F Ethan Happ, G Jordan Hill, G Zak Showalter (Redshirted 2013-14), G Riley Dearring (Redshirted 2013-14)
Best-case scenario: Expectations are high for a Wisconsin team with seven of its top eight players back from a Final Four run, but the talented, experienced Badgers have no trouble living up to them. Even though the graduation of Ben Brust deprives Wisconsin of its top sharpshooter, Bo Ryan has plenty of options. Sometimes he goes big, adds Hayes to the starting lineup and slides Dekker to his more natural small forward position. Sometimes he goes small and stays with a three-guard look by elevating the promising Koenig into a starting role. Prudent shots, crisp ball movement, disciplined tempo and physical defense have long been Wisconsin staples, but Ryan continues the trend he began last season and trusts this group of Badgers to play faster and with more freedom. The result is an efficient, high-powered offense that makes up for any defensive shortcomings and powers Wisconsin to a runaway Big Ten title and a return to the Final Four. Standing in the Badgers' way once the get there is a familiar foe: Kentucky. The two programs deliver another classic game that once again ends with Wisconsin in need of a bucket and the ball in the hands of Traevon Jackson. This time he buries the game winner, paving the way for the Badgers to rout Roy Williams and North Carolina in the title game and claim the Big Ten's first national championship since Mateen Cleaves and Michigan State way back in 2000.
Worst-case scenario: Expectations are high for a Wisconsin team with seven of its top eight players back from a Final Four run ... and the talented, experienced Badgers have some trouble living up to them. What Wisconsin's Final Four run masked last season is that the Badgers lost six Big Ten games last season and won neither the regular season nor tournament titles. What's more, the offensive efficiency Wisconsin relied on to make up for its uncharacteristically porous defense was partially fueled by 3-point shooting, an area that suffers this season somewhat due to the graduation of Brust. Michigan edges Wisconsin for the Big Ten title, Michigan State claims the Big Ten tournament title and the Badgers limp into the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed with major questions about its on-ball defense and lack of a shot blocker in the paint. Wisconsin does enough to earn the rematch it craves against Kentucky but it comes in the Sweet 16 instead of the Final Four and it doesn't go well. Traevon Jackson does make the game's last shot, but it's a meaningless one that lowers Kentucky's margin of victory from 18 to 16. And with that, Ryan's best chance to win a national title fades away and the Big Ten's title drought extends another year.

4. DUKE
Last year's record: 26-9, 13-5
Key returners: G Quinn Cook, G Rasheed Sulaimon, F Amile Jefferson, F Semi Ojeleye
Notable newcomers: C Jahlil Okafor, G Tyus Jones, F Justise Winslow, G Grayson Allen
Best-case scenario: Whereas last year's Blue Devils lacked both lock-down perimeter defenders and a rim-protecting center to make up for it, this year's team finds an obvious solution. Six-foot-7 freshman Justise Winslow emerges as a defensive stopper capable of guarding multiple positions and 6-foot-11 Jahlil Okafor provides the anchor in the middle that the Blue Devils were missing. Okafor and Winslow can't clean up all Duke's shortcomings on defense, but even modest improvement makes a big difference because the Blue Devils are so potent on offense. Between Okafor's vaunted low-post prowess, Rasheed Sulaimon thriving in a bigger role from the perimeter and Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones providing playmaking and timely scoring, Duke overwhelms its opponents with its litany of weapons. Sweeping the ACC regular season and tournament titles ensures the Blue Devils secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and draw an opening-round opponent far too weak to have any chance of becoming the next Mercer or Lehigh. From there, Duke builds momentum, eviscerating five straight opponents to win its fifth national championship. Mike Krzyzewski doesn't even care when reporters bring up the advantages he gained as coach of USA Basketball during the post-title game press conference. He brushes those questions aside with a smug grin and a fistful of championship rings.
Worst-case scenario: Duke's potent offense takes a half step backward without Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood and its defense doesn't improve nearly as much as anticipated. Okafor isn't an elite shot blocker and provides little resistance when opposing guards beat Duke's perimeter players off the dribble. And that happens often with Krzyzewski compelled to start point guards Jones and Cook alongside one-another to avoid complaints from either party, relegating the team's best perimeter defender, Winslow, to the bench. A couple of big early-season victories and the Duke name keep the Blue Devils in the top 15 most of the season, but the Blue Devils drop three straight in mid-February against Florida State, Syracuse and North Carolina and enter the NCAA tournament as a vulnerable No. 4 seed. Everyone's most popular upset pick comes through a few days later as 13th-seeded Georgia State exposes Duke's suspect defense and joins the Lehigh-Mercer pantheon. No reporters bother to ask Krzyzewski about the advantages of coaching USA Basketball after the Georgia State game, and why would they? The Blue Devils have now failed to get out of the opening round of the NCAA tournament three times in four years.

5. KANSAS
Last year's record: 25-10, 14-4
Key returners: F Perry Ellis, G Wayne Selden, G Frank Mason G Conner Frankamp, G Brannen Greene, F Jamari Traylor
Notable newcomers: C Cliff Alexander, F Kelly Oubre, G Devonte Graham, G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, F Hunter Mickelson
Best-case scenario: Can a program really lose the No. 1 and 3 picks in the draft and get better? Yes. Though Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid may have been the two most talented players in college basketball last season, both became top-three picks as much on potential as production. Between the arrival of top recruits Oubre, Alexander and Mykhailiuk and the further development of leading returning scorers Selden, Frankamp and Ellis, Kansas quickly proves to have more than enough weapons. Equally importantly, the Jayhawks are better equipped at point guard too despite the unexpected departure of incumbent starter Naadir Tharpe. The competition between Mason, Frankamp and Graham brings out the best in each of them and enables Bill Self to turn to the hot hand late in games. Kansas rolls to its 11th straight Big 12 title, enters the NCAA tournament fully healthy unlike a year ago and reels off six straight victories to capture Self's second national championship. With the money raised during the title run, Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger signs Self to a lifetime contract and still has a few million left over to devote to Charlie Weis' hefty buyout figure.
Worst-case scenario: Can a program really lose the No. 1 and 3 picks in the draft and get better? No. Though Kansas replaces the scoring of Wiggins and Embiid, the Jayhawks miss their defensive prowess. A Kansas team that was already Self's worst defensively last season slips even further with referees still whistling fouls at a record pace and with their top shot blocker and perimeter stopper both in the NBA. Turnovers and poor decisions once again plague the Jayhawks as well because they lack an elite point guard for a third straight season. Mason doesn't make a sophomore leap, Graham isn't ready to make an immediate impact as a starter and Frankamp proves to be more of a pure shooter than a distributing combo guard. Between costly turnovers and defensive breakdowns, Kansas cedes the Big 12 to Texas and Jayhawks fans learn that league titles are not a birthright. They're also reminded that deep NCAA tournament runs aren't either when Kansas falls for a second straight season in the Round of 32 — to in-state foe Wichita State no less. Self leaves for an NBA gig over the summer and, after swinging and missing in bids to land a couple high-profile coaches, Zenger decides to bring Weis back to coach both the football and basketball programs. Tens of thousands of Kansas fans revolt and decide to root for the Shockers.

6. NORTH CAROLINA
Last year's record: 24-10, 13-5
Key returners: G Marcus Paige, F Kennedy Meeks, F Brice Johnson, F J.P. Tokoto, F Joel James, G Nate Britt, F Desmond Hubert, F Isaiah Hicks
Notable newcomers: G/F Justin Jackson, G Joel Berry, G/F Theo Pinson
Best-case scenario: The unpredictability that plagued the Tar Heels last season is no longer an issue this winter. North Carolina starts this season focused and ready without the uncertainty of the P.J. Hairston saga hanging over their heads. Three-point shooting and free throw shooting also aren't such glaring weaknesses as explosive freshmen Jackson, Berry and Pinson cut into the playing time of the inefficient Britt and Tokoto. With more scorers available on the perimeter, a slimmed-down Meeks seeing increased touches on the low block and Johnson finishing in transition and via the offensive glass, North Carolina's offense is more balanced and less reliant on Paige. The All-American candidate's points per game drop off a bit, but his shooting percentage skyrockets. That potent but balanced offense propels North Carolina to an ACC title and elevates the Tar Heels into national title contention. The season ends in Indianapolis one win shy of a championship, but that's still more than good enough to secure Tobacco Road bragging rights over an underachieving Duke team upset in the opening round of the NCAA tournament for a third time in four years and a hapless NC State team that doesn't even make the field of 68 at all. Depressed PackPride messageboard posters suspend their quest for vigilante justice for a few days for an alcohol-soaked bender.
Worst-case scenario: The unpredictability that plagued the Tar Heels last season is no longer an issue this winter ... but not necessarily in a good way. Yes, North Carolina doesn't fall to any small-conference lightweights this November, but the overhyped Tar Heels also don't defeat any of the elite programs on their schedule either. What hinders North Carolina is the same problem that short-circuited its season a year ago: None of the Tar Heels besides Paige can shoot. He's the only returning rotation player who shot more than 25 percent from behind the arc last season, and it shows. Switching from shooting left-handed to shooting right-handed does little to improve Britt's long-range accuracy, nor does Tokoto become any sort of threat from the perimeter. And while North Carolina's incoming freshmen are gifted athletically, there proves to be a reason none of them are known for their shooting. Over-reliance on Paige burns the Tar Heels in the long run as he wears down late in close games and the Tar Heels fade from ACC title contention by Valentine's Day. They also exit the NCAA tournament against the first zone defense they encounter, ceding Tobacco Road bragging rights not just to Final Four-bound Duke but also to a surprising NC State team that makes an unexpected Sweet 16 run. Ecstatic PackPride messageboard posters celebrate North Carolina's misfortune by uncovering more evidence of academic fraud in Chapel Hill.

7. LOUISVILLE
Last year's record: 31-6, 15-3
Key returners: F Montrezl Harrell, G Terry Rozier, G Chris Jones, F Wayne Blackshear, F/C Mangok Mathiang, G Anton Gill
Notable newcomers: G Quentin Snider, F Jaylen Johnson, F/C Chinanu Onuaku, G Shaqquan Aaron
Best-case scenario: Finally free to run the show now that All-American Russ Smith has moved on to the professional ranks, Jones and Rozier show why Rick Pitino has been touting them all offseason. Jones, quicker and faster after shedding 10 pounds, excels attacking the rim and making plays off the dribble.Rozier validates the glowing reviews he received on the summer camp circuit and leaves scouts drooling by the end of his breakout season. The emergence of that guard duo ensures Louisville has the perimeter weapons it needs to complement a frontcourt highlighted by one of the best big men in the nation in Harrell. The 6-foot-8 junior returns more well-rounded, having added improved free throw shooting and an array of low post moves to his already-established prowess gobbling up rebounds and finishing at the rim. Fueled by that trio of all-league candidates and a talented supporting cast, Louisville has little trouble adjusting in its debut season in the ACC. The Cards sweep the regular season and tournament titles, a warning shot to Duke and North Carolina that Tobacco Road is no longer the ACC's power center. Louisville's dream season ends in ideal fashion as the Cards topple Kentucky in an all-Bluegrass national title game on a Harrell put-back slam at the buzzer. Pitino tattoos a picture of the play on his chest and vows to name his next Kentucky Derby-caliber horse after Harrell.
Worst-case scenario: Turns out Pitino's praise for Jones and Rozier was just empty hype. The guard duo is adequate defensively and getting to the rim but hardly explosive. Since its backcourt can't measure up to the Peyton Siva-Russ Smith heyday and Blackshear remains more comfortable as a role player than a star, Louisville desperately needs an All-American type season from Harrell. Alas, the 6-foot-8 junior remains one dimensional — an elite defender and offensive rebounder who excels on put-backs and dunks but lacks the refinement to knock down mid-range jumpers or score with his back to the basket. Another season in the American Athletic Conference might have masked Louisville's shortcomings but they're quickly exposed in the rugged ACC. Duke and North Carolina take great joy in sweeping the Cardinals and serving notice that the ACC will always be their league. The NCAA tournament provides little solace for Louisville fans as the Cardinals don't survive the opening weekend and Kentucky cuts down the nets in Indianapolis. Pitino doesn't add to his tattoo collection and, nostalgic for his days in Lexington, vows to name his next Kentucky Derby-caliber horse after Tony Delk.

8. VIRGINIA
Last year's record: 30-7, 16-2
Key returners: G London Perrantes, G Justin Anderson, G Malcolm Brogdon, F Anthony Gill, F Evan Nolte, F-C Mike Tobey, F Darion Atkins
Notable newcomers: G B.J. Stith, G Marial Shayok, F Isaiah Wilkins, C Jack Salt
Best-case scenario: For a team that loses its most dangerous scorer (Joe Harris) and its best defender (Akil Mitchell), Virginia enters the season remarkably well positioned to build on last year's ACC title. Every other member of the Cavaliers' rotation returns, including ACC player of the year candidate Malcolm Brogdon, pass-first point guard London Perrantes, versatile defender Justin Anderson and breakout candidate Mike Tobey. Plus, the Cavs add a strong recruiting class highlighted by explosive scorer B.J. Stith and athletic forward Isaiah Wilkins, the Georgia player of the year and the step-son of Dominique Wilkins. What Virginia loses in defense and leadership without Harris and Mitchell it makes up for offensively with a patient, balanced attack that's among the most efficient in the nation. The Cavs again enter ACC play overshadowed by Duke and North Carolina and again finish ahead of both Tobacco Road powers, claiming a second straight league title in the process. The lack of elite talent on Virginia's roster inspires skepticism entering the NCAA tournament, but in a triumph for teamwork, the Cavs reach the Final Four before succumbing to Kentucky by a bucket. There's still joy in Hooville though. Every member of the rotation besides senior Darion Atkins returns the following year.
Worst-case scenario: The ceiling for an experienced, well-coached team is high, but Virginia descends from an elite team to merely a good one because of a series of disappointing developments. Brogdon regresses offensively now that he's seeing the defensive attention that went to Harris last season. The light never turns on for Tobey, who continues to drift through long stretches of games like a ghost despite his considerable talent. And finding a defensive anchor with Mitchell's physical tools, communication skills and ability to defend ball screens proves more difficult than anticipated. None of that puts Virginia in any danger of missing the NCAA tournament, but it does leave the Cavs a rung below Duke, Louisville and North Carolina in the ACC and well short of preseason expectations. It also spells another early NCAA tournament exit against a program with more NBA-caliber talent, this time in the round of 32. North Carolina wins the national championship, several of Virginia's underclassmen transfer to programs that play at a quicker tempo and college basketball handicaps Bennett Ball by adopting a 30-second shot clock beginning with the 2015-16 season. Any lingering joy in Hooville? Long gone.

9. UCONN
Last year's record: 32-8, 12-6
Key returners: G Ryan Boatright, C Amida Brimah, G Omar Calhoun, G Terrence Samuel, F Philip Nolan, F Kentan Facey
Notable newcomers: G Rodney Purvis, G Daniel Hamilton, G Sam Cassell Jr. F Rakim Lubin
Best-case scenario: It seems unfathomable UConn's backcourt could be as good as last year's without Shabazz Napier, but the Huskies don't drop off at all. Boatright has a Napier-like season now that he's the focal point, scoring or distributing off the dribble, sinking timely jumpers, playing sticky on-ball defense and providing senior leadership. Hamilton and the NC State transfer Purvis live up to their reputation as former top 20 recruits at wing. Calhoun reemerges as the game changer many expected him to be a year ago in the role of first guard off the bench, Cassell, a top 10 junior college recruit, contributes immediately and Samuel builds on his strong finish to last season as well. Though neither Brimah nor Nolan provide much frontcourt offense, UConn doesn't require it. All the Huskies need is for Brimah to block shots and protect the rim and for Nolan to play sound defense and attack the glass, which both do. The result is a UConn team that is much better than last year's pre-postseason. The Huskies hold their own against a strong preseason schedule, hit their stride in league play and roll into the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed. From there, it's like last March all over again — only everyone knows better than to sleep on UConn this time. By the time the Huskies edge Kentucky in the national title game for a second straight year, plans are being made in Storrs to erect a statue of Kevin Ollie and the ACC and Big Ten are in a bidding war to add UConn.
Worst-case scenario: Without Napier, UConn's backcourt isn't close to as formidable as last year's. Boatright isn't Napier no matter how hard he tries. He jacks up too many contested shots trying to fill his former teammate's shoes, and most of them miss. Purvis, whom Ollie referred to last season as "a Ferrari sitting in the garage that I can't drive," turns out to be more Honda Accord than Testarossa. Hamilton and Cassell are slow to adjust to Division I ball, Calhoun continues last year's disappearing act and Samuel's strong finish last year turns out to be fool's gold. Though Brimah and Nolan defend and rebound as expected, having two non-scoring threats on the floor hurts UConn's offense and puts more pressure on the struggling backcourt. The Huskies flounder against a preseason schedule featuring six NCAA tournament teams from last year, cede the American Athletic Conference title to SMU and sneak into the NCAA tournament as an underachieving No. 10 seed. From there, it's nothing like last March. UConn exits in round one, Ollie never gets his statue and the Big Ten and ACC openly laugh at the Huskies' desperate pleas for membership. Says Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany snidely, "They're in the 30th biggest TV market in the country and their football team lost to Temple this season by four touchdowns? Get real."

10. WICHITA STATE
Last year's record: 35-1, 18-0
Key returners: G Fred VanVleet, G Ron Baker, G Tekele Cotton, F Darius Carter, F Evan Wessel
Notable newcomers: F Tevin Glass, F Rauno Nurger, F Shaq Morris, C Tom Wamukota
Best-case scenario: Motivated by their heartbreaking NCAA tournament loss to Kentucky and months of skeptics questioning whether their gaudy record was a product of their schedule, the Shockers embrace their "Play Angry" mantra and begin the year with something to prove. Every half-decent non-conference opponent they face feels their wrath, from Memphis, to Utah, to Alabama, to a trio of teams at the Diamondhead Classic. Just like Wichita State seamlessly replaced point guard Malcolm Armstead and big man Carl Hall last year en route to an unbeaten regular season, the Shockers have little trouble filling Cleanthony Early's shoes. Junior college transfers Glass and Wamukota absorb most of Early's minutes and evolve into capable defenders and rebounders. The scoring comes from the back-to-the-basket offense of Carter and a skilled, diverse three-man backcourt that validates the preseason hype that it is one of the nation's best. When the NCAA tournament pairings are revealed, Wichita State fans drool over a potential Elite Eight showdown with Kansas. Sure enough, both teams win their first three games, paving the way for the most satisfying Shockers victory of Gregg Marshall's tenure. Another heartbreaking Final Four loss stings temporarily, but the accomplishments of the past three seasons soon ease the pain. Two Final Fours and an unbeaten regular season silence the naysayers and give Marshall no reason to look elsewhere.
Worst-case scenario:
Well aware that they can't really prove anything until the postseason after the way last season ended, the Shockers lack the consistent focus during the regular season they had a year ago. They also miss Early's scoring ability and defensive versatility as the players who absorb his minutes can't collectively match his production and Wichita State often seems one weapon short against elite foes. The combination of a soft schedule and a few unexpected losses hurts the Shockers' resume and forces them to settle for a No. 6 seed. A potential shot at Kansas in a regional final is the one silver lining to Wichita State's NCAA tournament draw, but that only makes it sting more when the Shockers fail to make it that far and miss their chance to silence legions of skeptics in Lawrence. The naysayers continue to argue last year's undefeated season was a product of the schedule, Bill Self reiterates his unwillingness to ever play the Shockers and Marshall begins to wonder if he'll ever have it this good again in Wichita. With his son graduating high school, Baker leaving for the NBA and several other key players set to graduate, Marshall decides the time is right to jump for the best available job.

11. FLORIDA
Last year's record: 36-3, 18-0
Key returners: F Dorian Finney-Smith, G Michael Frazier, G Kasey Hill, F Chris Walker, G Eli Carter
Notable newcomers: F Jon Horford, F Alex Murphy, F Devin Robinson, G Brandone Francis
Best-case scenario: Though Florida graduated four of its five starters from last season's Final Four team, there's an argument to be made that this year's Gators are more talented. Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Patric Young and Will Yeguete each went undrafted by the NBA last June, but DraftExpress.com projects four members of this year's Gators will hear their names called either in 2015 or 2016. It takes a month or two for the newcomers and returners to adjust to their roles and mesh with one-another, but the Gators survive a daunting non-conference slate and again feast on the SEC schedule. The former McDonald's All-American Hill thrives as full-time point guard, Frazier diversifies his game and finds ways to be be productive when his 3-point shot isn't falling and a stronger, more focused Walker provides a consistent effort defensively and timely highlights on the offensive end. Florida edges Kentucky for the SEC title, reaches the Elite Eight for the fifth straight season and the Final Four for a second consecutive year, eliminating last year's nemesis UConn along the way to enact a small measure of revenge. NBA teams once again court Billy Donovan after the season. He quickly quashes that talk by signing a contract extension.
Worst-case scenario:
Talent doesn't help Florida recreate last season's success. None of its veterans are ready to make the leap to go-to scoring threat offensively and its two ex-McDonald's All-American sophomores are better pro prospects than college players. Even with a full offseason to acclimate himself to the program and get better and stronger, Walker still lacks focus defensively, gets pushed around in the paint and contributes modestly offensively besides an occasional alley-oop or transition dunk. Hill displays an explosive first step to the rim, good court vision and a long wingspan in his first season as full-time point guard, but his outside shot remains a weakness, as does his ability to create offense in half-court sets and play under control. The outside shooting of Frazier and the versatility of Finney-Smith and Murphy help somewhat, but ultimately the Gators are just too easy for elite opponents to guard. They never mount a real challenge to Kentucky in the SEC and fail to survive the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years, falling at the hands of UConn yet again. Walker and Hill both turn pro early despite erratic seasons, but the real blow comes a few weeks later when Donovan follows. Though he loves Gainesville and has turned down chances to coach in the NBA before, coaching at basketball's highest level has long intrigued him and he feels the timing is right for a new challenge.  

12. GONZAGA
Last year's record: 29-7, 15-3
Key returners: G Kevin Pangos, G Gary Bell Jr., C Przemek Karnowski, G Kyle Dranginis, F Angel Nunez
Notable newcomers: F Kyle Wiltjer, G Byron Wesley, G Josh Perkins, G Eric McClellan, F Domantas Sabonis
Best-case scenario: After years of buckling under the weight of March expectations, Gonzaga finally helps Mark Few shed the label of perennial NCAA tournament underachiever. In the backcourt, a fully healthy Pangos and Bell deliver the leadership and sound decision-making expected from a pair of four-year starters and Wesley accepts that his scoring output won't be the same as it was at USC last season and embraces the role of perimeter defensive stopper. In the frontcourt, Wiltjer benefits from his redshirt year almost as much as Kelly Olynyk did two years ago and becomes the inside-outside threat Kentucky hoped he'd be, while Karnowski builds on a successful sophomore season and Sabonis makes an immediate impact as a third big man. Blessed with uncommon experience on the perimeter and size and skill in the paint, Gonzaga stuns Arizona on Dec. 6 to serve notice it's legit, rolls through the WCC slate with just a single loss and survives the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009. Free of that burden, the Zags play with confidence and ease the following weekend, dispatching Arizona a second time in the Elite Eight to advance to the program's first Final Four. That's where the run ends, but no matter. The sting of 2013's round of 32 flameout is long-forgotten.
Worst-case scenario:
Same old, same old. Experience, size and skill help Gonzaga edge BYU for the WCC title, but this isn't a Zags team built for a deep NCAA tournament run. Nagging injuries again hamper Pangos and Bell. Wesley is more interested in hoisting shots than using his length and athleticism to become the perimeter stopper the Zags have lacked in recent years. Wiltjer offers outside shooting but little in the way of defense or rebounding. And Karnowski has trouble staying out of foul trouble long enough to provide the rim protection and back-to-the-basket scoring the Zags need from him. Reacquainted with elite competition for the first time in a while, Gonzaga crumbles in the round of 32 once again and leaves the arena with chants of "overrated" ringing in their ears. Few valiantly defends his team by praising them for another strong regular season, but the words sound hollow to frustrated Zags fans. They understandably start to wonder if Gonzaga is ever again going to achieve the sort of March success that first helped the program first crack the national consciousness 15 years ago.

13. VILLANOVA
Last year's record: 29-5, 16-2
Key returners: G Ryan Arcidiacono, G Darrun Hilliard, G Josh Hart, F JayVaughn Pinkston, C Daniel Ochefu, G Dylan Ennis, F Kris Jenkins
Notable newcomers: F Mikal Bridges, G Phil Booth
Best-case scenario: With Creighton rebuilding and nobody else poised to step up in class, a Villanova team that returns four starters from last year is once again the class of the Big East. Between Hilliard building on an excellent junior season, Hart delivering a breakout performance in his first season as a starter and Booth contributing as a combo guard off the bench, Villanova easily absorbs the loss of last year's leading scorer James Bell. Those three and hard-nosed junior point guard Ryan Arcidiacono form a skilled backourt worthy of Villanova's reputation for producing guards. The frontcourt was supposed to be the bigger question, but Pinkston delivers a big-time senior season as an interior scorer, Ochefu blocks shots and defends the paint and Jenkins emerges as a capable third big man. Fueled by its strong perimeter corps and its stingy defense, Villanova piles up nearly 30 regular season wins but once again is a popular early-round upset pick in the NCAA tournament due to its lack of high-level talent. This time, however, the Wildcats don't oblige. Six years after his only other appearance on college basketball's biggest stage, dapper Villanova coach Jay Wright again gets to sport one of his Italian suits on the bench at the Final Four.
Worst-case scenario:
Though a 29-win team returns mostly intact, Villanova has some weaknesses — namely a lack of frontcourt depth. Ochefu is the only scholarship player 6-foot-7 or taller on the roster and when he gets into foul trouble, the Wildcats struggle to defend the rim. Regression from some of Villanova's key players also takes its toll. Arcidiacono isn't quite as remarkably turnover-free as last season, Hilliard proves less consistent shooting from the perimeter and Hart shows flashes in every facet of the game but can't do it all consistently yet. The result is a few more regular season losses than last year, a less gaudy seed and a more difficult road in the NCAA tournament. Just like last year, Villanova lacks an go-to scorer to turn to when crisis strikes in March, and just like last year the Wildcats can't survive the round of 32. Wright does get to sport one of his dapper Italian suits at the Final Four, but it's merely behind a courtside desk as a guest analyst for Turner Sports.

14. TEXAS
Last year's record: 24-12, 11-7
Key returners: C Cameron Ridley, G Javan Felix, G Isaiah Taylor, F Jonathan Holmes, G Kendal Yancy, G Demarcus Holland, F Connor Lammert, F Prince Ibeh
Notable newcomers: C Myles Turner, G Jordan Barnett
Best-case scenario: Having already beat Kansas on the recruiting trail last spring in the race to land elite big man Myles Turner, the Longhorns also outclass the Jayhawks on the floor this winter.They end Kansas' decade-long reign over the Big 12 thanks to a more consistent backcourt, a stingy defense and a deep, multi-faceted stable of big men that collectively rebounds as well as any frontcourt besides Kentucky's. Fitting Turner into a lineup that returns all five starters is no problem for Barnes. The 7-footer's shot-blocking, ability to the run the floor and knack for sinking mid-range jumpers provides a perfect complement to the lumbering Ridley and excellent backups Ibeh and Lammert. Furthermore, the 6-foot-8 Holmes helps clear the frontcourt logjam by displaying enough skill and agility to slide to small forward with ease for long stretches. Nobody confuses any of Texas' perimeter players for Reggie Miller, but Felix and Taylor show improved shot selection this season, the reserves make some timely buckets and the Longhorns gobble up enough offensive boards to make up for their occasionally wayward shooting. That formula is enough for a 15-3 Big 12 record, a No. 1 seed in the fan-friendly Houston Regional and Barnes' first trip to the Final Four since 2003. Off-target perimeter shooting ends Texas' season in the national semifinals, but Texas fans are thoroughly satisfied. They spend a day or two lauding Barnes before returning to grumbling over the sorry state of the Longhorns football program.
Worst-case scenario: Forget outclassing Kansas. Texas isn't even the second-best team in the Big 12. The logjam in the frontcourt becomes more unmanageable than Barnes expected when Holmes proves better suited to defending the paint than the perimeter, leaving Texas with a quintet of big men accustomed to ample playing time. Frequent grumbling from some of the incumbents about Turner eating into their minutes turns out to be a season-long issue and a chemistry killer. Still, the bigger problem for Texas is on the perimeter. Its guards can't shoot. Felix and Taylor display the same scattershot shot selection as last season, Holland remains an asset on defense only and Yancy is no closer to tapping into his potential as a former heralded recruit. The Longhorns as a team somehow shoot worse from behind the arc than the 32.7 percent clip they posted last season. Defense and rebounding still carry Texas to the NCAA tournament, but the Longhorns brick themselves into a big first-half deficit in the opening round and lack the firepower to climb out of it. Disinterested Texas fans barely notice because they're too busy grumbling over the sorry state of the Longhorns football program.

15. SAN DIEGO STATE
Last year's record: 31-5, 16-2
Key returners: G Winston Shepard, F J.J. O'Brien, F Dwayne Polee Jr., F Matt Shrigley, F Skylar Spencer, G Aqeel Quinn, G Dakarai Allen, G D'Erryl Williams
Notable newcomers: F Angelo Chol, G Kevin Zabo, G Trey Kell, F Zylan Cheatham, F Malik Pope
Best-case scenario: One of the elite defensive teams in the nation also manages to generate enough offense that the graduation of do-it-all point guard Xavier Thames proves less crippling than expected. Quinn, Williams and Zabo collectively absorb Thames' minutes at point guard, making good decisions with the ball and creating shots for others. The trio of point guards don't provide much scoring, but Polee, Shepard and Shrigley each shoulder a greater offensive burden to help replace Thames' 17.6 points per game. Chol, a transfer from Arizona, also helps by emerging as a back-to-the-basket scoring threat. And San Diego State's most highly touted freshman class ever contributes more consistently by the end of the year. Even on nights when San Diego State's half-court offense is anemic — and there are a few — the Aztecs win more often than not anyway by generating second-chance points and transition opportunities. They have a defense-first culture, length and athleticism at every position and a pair of shot blockers in Spencer and Chol who erase mistakes, crash the boards and allow the perimeter players to gamble for steals or release in transition without fear. San Diego State survives a grueling non-league slate, feasts on an unusually weak Mountain West and enters the NCAA tournament eager to improve on last year's Sweet 16. They shut down every opponent they face in the West Region and get timely buckets from up and down the roster, avenging last year's Sweet 16 loss to Arizona to earn 69-year-old Steve Fisher a return trip to the Final Four. Many suspect Fisher will opt to reitre on top. They're wrong. To the delight of San Diego State players and fans, he says he has a few more years left in him.
Worst-case scenario: While San Diego State is formidable defensively, the Aztecs aren't efficient enough on offense to be an elite team. So much of last year's offense was predicated on Thames creating off ball screens that none of the returning players have any experience making plays in late shot-clock situations. The point guards aren't scorers, Shrigley and Polee are catch-and-shoot guys, not creators and Shepard's wayward jump shot and turnover-prone decision making cancel out any success he has finishing at the rim. The freshmen don't help much either as Pope (broken leg) and Cheatham (broken foot) are too far behind due to injuries to catch up this season. Defense and rebounding keep San Diego State competitive every game, but a lack of an offensive catalyst leads to a lot of close losses against the best teams on the schedule. Plus, the Aztecs prove vulnerable to upset against mediocre opponents who hang around by slowing the tempo and holding their own on the glass. San Diego State does sneak into the NCAA tournament but this is a team a year away from making any real noise. The Aztecs bow out in the round of 64 without getting another crack at Arizona. Many suspect Fisher will return to take one more shot at a Final Four. They're wrong. To the dismay of San Diego State players and fans, he hands the reins to coach in waiting Brian Dutcher, saying that he's proud to leave the program on solid footing.

16. IOWA STATE
Last year's record: 28-8, 11-7
Key returners: F Georges Niang, G Dustin Hogue, G Monte Morris, G Naz Long, G Matt Thomas
Notable newcomers: G Bryce Dejean-Jones, F Jameel McKay, F Abdel Nader, G Clayton Custer
Best-case scenario: There's nobody who has used transfers more effectively of late than Fred Hoiberg, and this year turns out to be no exception.  Dejean-Jones, UNLV's leading scorer last season, serves as a perfect backcourt complement to the pass-first Morris, curbing his volume shooting ways yet calling his own number enough to help make up for the loss of DeAndre Kane. Nader, a Northern Illinois transfer, thrives as a complementary wing scorer at Iowa State after facing double teams at his former school, and McKay, a Marquette transfer, rebounds, runs the floor and protects the rim once he becomes eligible in mid-December. Still, Iowa State's biggest star is Niang, who proves impossible for opposing power forwards to defend because of his outside shooting, passing and nimbleness in the paint. Raining down threes on its opponents and dominating the glass at both ends, Iowa State goes unbeaten at raucous Hilton Coliseum in the regular season, shares the Big 12 title with Kansas and wins the rubber match with the Jayhawks in the Big 12 tournament. Niang then draws motivation from the broken foot he suffered last March and puts the Cyclones on his back, spearheading a deep NCAA tournament run. Hoiberg spurns his many NBA suitors to return to Ames once again and Niang decides to come back as well to chase a championship as a senior. Meanwhile at Iowa, the Hawkeyes lose 20 games and Fran McCaffery is suspended for more poor sideline behavior.
Worst-case scenario:
There's nobody who has used transfers more effectively recently than Hoiberg, but this year's additions fail to make the impact previous ones have. Dejean-Jones chucks bad shots up at an alarming pace in Hoiberg's freewheeling system and hampers team chemistry with his I'm-going-to-get-mine style of play. Nader can't stay out of off-the-court trouble and McKay has a hard time making an impact as a midseason addition. Returners Niang, Hogue, Long and Morris are sufficient building blocks for Iowa State to still make the NCAA tournament, but this Cyclones team isn't nearly as potent as last year's. A poorly timed first-half shooting slump puts the Cyclones in a big hole in the round of 64 against a dangerous mid-major, and Iowa State can't get enough stops in the second half to come back. The despair is compounded by a deep Iowa run, the loss of Niang and Hoiberg to the NBA and the realization that Hilton magic may fade away for the time being. 

17. MICHIGAN STATE
Last year's record: 29-9, 12-6
Key returners: G Travis Trice, G/F Denzel Valentine, F Branden Dawson, F Matt Costello, F Gavin Schilling
Notable newcomers: G Lourawls Nairn, G Javon Bess, F Marvin Clark, G Bryn Forbes
Best-case scenario: Able to fly under the radar early in the season thanks to the departure of Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, Michigan State exceeds modest expectations. The Dawson the Spartans get is the one who averaged 17.5 points per game during a postseason hot streak. He understands it's his time to inherit the role of go-to scorer and he's ready for it, showing off an improved jump shot, solid ball handling and an ability to take advantage of mismatches either in the post or on the perimeter. Valentine also thrives with greater responsibility. From scoring to distributing to rebounding, the 6-foot-5 junior proves to be a jack of all trades. There's concern about less experienced players handling the other positions, but Trice and Nairns complement one-another well at point guard, the Cleveland State transfer Forbes adds a perimeter threat at shooting guard and Costello controls the paint at both ends. Confidence buoyed by an unusually modest non-league schedule, the Spartans enter Big Ten play comfortable with their roles and emerge as Wisconsin's toughest challenger. They earn a better NCAA tournament seed than last year's team did and surprise everyone by advancing to Tom Izzo's seventh Final Four, defeating former recruiting target Jahlil Okafor and Duke in the process. Patrons at The Riv in East Lansing toast that accomplishment with $3.00 24-ounce mugs of Labatt and dream of the possibilities down the road when the young talent on this roster matures.
Worst-case scenario: Sometimes, expectations are lower for a reason. Dawson proves better suited to a complementary role offensively than the job of go-to scoring threat. Valentine remains a better facilitator than scorer. Trice is a spot-up shooter masquerading as a point guard and Nairns can't shoot well enough to make opposing defenses guard him. The frontcourt also lacks quality depth behind Costello and badly misses stretch forward Kenny Kaminski. Confidence zapped by some unexpected non-conference losses, Michigan State quickly falls out of contention in Big Ten play and narrowly avoids missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1997. Patrons at the Riv in East Lansing mutter under their breath about recent recruiting misses as the Spartans bow out meekly in a forgettable opening-round loss. The grumbles get louder when Okafor, Tyus Jones and Duke win the national championship. 

18. OKLAHOMA
Last year's record: 23-10, 12-6
Key returners: G Buddy Hield, F Ryan Spangler, G Jordan Woodard, G Isaiah Cousins, G Frank Booker, F D.J. Bennett 
Notable newcomers: F Tashawn Thomas, C Jamuni McNeace, F Khadeem Lattin, F Dante Buford
Best-case scenario: Overshadowed in its own state by talented but turmoil-ridden Oklahoma State and on its own campus by an elite football program, Oklahoma's reemergence under Lon Kruger did not receive the attention it deserved the past two years. That changes this season when the under-publicized Sooners force their way into the national headlines with their appealing style of play and array of returning standouts. In the backcourt, Hield again flourishes, hitting jumpers at a similar clip to last season while also attacking the rim more aggressively than he previously did. Cousins provides scoring and lock-down defense and Woodard distributes effectively just like last season while also emerging as more of a threat to score himself. Losing second-leading scorer Cameron Clark doesn't damage the frontcourt too badly as Thomas wins his waiver request and becomes eligible immediately. The 6-foot-8 Houston transfer forms a solid tandem with Spangler, enabling Lon Kruger to bring along his young big men slowly as backups. Oklahoma outduels Kansas for the Big 12 crown, earns a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and enters its opener motivated to avoid the opening-round upset that ended its season last year. The Sooners do more than that, reaching the Elite Eight and even coaxing a fist pump or two out of notoriously bland coach Lon Kruger. Meanwhile in Stillwater, life after Marcus Smart proves tough. Only hapless TCU finishes behind the Cowboys in the Big 12 standings.
Worst-case scenario: The Sooners are neither good enough nor appealing enough to capture headlines. The backcourt falls a bit shy of expectations as Hield settles for too many jump shots and seldom attacks off the dribble and the pass-first Woodard remains a non-threat as a scorer. Still, it's the frontcourt that turns out to be the far bigger issue, especially after Thomas does not receive his waiver and has to sit out the entire season. None of the freshman big men emerge as impact players right away, and the Sooners badly miss Clark, one of their most aggressive and efficient players last season. Between the hole in its frontcourt and a lack of depth off the bench, Oklahoma is clearly a tier below the top teams in the Big 12 and finishes in the middle of the pack. That alleviates any fears of falling victim to another opening-round NCAA tournament upset. The Sooners lose their first game again, but this time it's the play-in game in front of a sparse crowd in Dayton. Meanwhile, Texas wins the national championship and Oklahoma State makes an unexpected Sweet 16 run. Oh, and there are no fist pumps from Kruger. Only forced smiles and cliches. Lots of cliches. 

19. VCU
Last year's record: 26-9, 12-4
Key returners: G/F Treveon Graham, G Briante Weber, G JeQuan Lewis, G Jordan Burgess, G Melvin Johnson, F Jarred Guest, F Mo Alie-Cox
Notable newcomers: G/F Terry Larier, F Justin Tillman, F Michael Gilmore, G Jonathan Williams
Best-case scenario: Thanks to the return of ball-hawking point guard Briante Weber, shot-swatting big man Mo Alie-Cox and a collection of long, quick, versatile players at other spots, VCU once again boasts one of the nation's most intimidating defenses. Swarming full-court pressure wears down weary opponents and generates plenty of transition layups to help the Rams compensate for their sometimes inefficient half-court attack. Half-court offense never will be VCU's calling card, but the Rams improve on last year's dreadful shooting numbers. Weber, a converted wing, displays better court vision and decision making in his second season at point guard, while the development of JeQuan Lewis and freshman Jonathan Williams allows the senior to slide off ball sometimes too. Conference player of the year candidate Treveon Graham, rangy shooter Melvin Johnson and promising young players Jordan Burgess and Terry Larier each provide scoring from the wing. And while Alie-Cox's specialty is defense, he delivers back-to-the-basket scoring too. The result is a VCU team built to not only emerge as the class of the Atlantic 10 but also do some damage in March. Last year's heart-wrenching loss to Stephen F. Austin is a distant memory by the time the Rams conclude their NCAA tournament run with a second Final Four bid. Louisville ends VCU's run in Indianapolis, but the impact of the run lingers. Top 100 recruits continue to view VCU s a viable option and Shaka Smart continues to see no reason to leave. 
Worst-case scenario: For a team that generates dozens of transition layups from its swarming defense, VCU shot an alarmingly low percentage from the field last season. The Rams sank only 42 percent of their shots, a flaw that hamstrung them despite their defense ranking among the nation's best. The graduation of efficient big man Juvonte Reddic and 3-point specialist Rob Brandenberg only exacerbates the problem this season. Weber, despite all his defensive attributes, isn't a natural point guard and often struggles to create shots for his teammates. The Rams also lack either a back-to-the-basket scorer who commands a double team or enough consistent outside shooters to make opposing defenses pay for taking away driving lanes. Fierce defense still propels VCU to a top-four finish in the Atlantic 10 and an NCAA bid, but this isn't the special season many in Richmond anticipated. The cold-shooting Rams exit in the round of 64 with a hail of errant threes. Once again, power-conference suitors try to woo Smart after the season ends. Weary of the challenge of trying to out-duel programs with more pedigree and deeper pockets, this time he bites.

20. MICHIGAN
Last year's record: 28-9, 15-3
Key returners: G Caris Levert, G Derrick Walton Jr., G/F Zak Irvin, G Spike Albrecht, F Max Bielfeldt, F Mark Donnal
Notable newcomers: G/F Kameron Chatman, F Ricky Doyle, F D.J. Wilson, G Aubrey Dawkins, G Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahim
Best-case scenario: Having lost 57.2 percent of last season's total scoring because of the departures of Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, Michigan enters the new season in search of new stars. They find one in LeVert, a 6-foot-6 junior who completes his transformation from overlooked recruit, to impact player, to All-American candidate. Complementing LeVert's all-around brilliance are a trio of returning perimeter players. Walton looks for his own shot more while still running the offense and keeping his turnovers low, Irvin contributes more than just 3-point shooting as a sophomore and Albrecht provides much-needed vocal leadership coming off the bench. The frontcourt isn't a strength, but it's not nearly as bad as many expect either. By March, Donnal and Doyle have developed into serviceable defenders and rebounders as freshmen and Chatman is reminiscent of Robinson with his perimeter skills and ability to guard bigger players. In a year labeled as a rebuilding season from the get-go, Michigan makes fans forget all about its football nightmare under Brady Hoke, finishing in the top-three in the Big Ten and advancing all the way to the Elite Eight. Falling one win shy of a Final Four for the second straight year is hard to stomach, but it's made easier by the fact that every key player decides to return the following year — yes, even LeVert. Also soothing Michigan's pain: Neither Ohio State nor Michigan State even make it out of the opening round. 
Worst-case scenario: With its proud football program in shambles, Michigan fans turn to basketball in search of relief ... but they find none. LeVert stars and Walton, Irvin and Albrecht contribute, but the frontcourt is even worse than expected. With Mitch McGary in the NBA, Jon Horford at Florida and Jordan Morgan playing overseas, the most experienced big man on the roster is the 6-foot-7 Bielfeldt, who played all of 4.7 minutes per game as a junior. Bielfeldt sets a mean screen and battles on the boards, but he's a liability offensively and overmatched athletically against the Big Ten's best big men. Trouble is he's still more reliable than either the redshirt freshman Donnal or the true freshman Doyle, neither one of which are consistent enough defensively or on the glass to satisfy Beilein. Chatman also has his share of freshman moments as he tries to replace Robinson. The result is a Michigan team that doesn't score as efficiently as previous Beilein teams and can't stop anybody. The Wolverines sink to the middle of the pack in the unforgiving Big Ten and settle for an NIT bid, a fate made worse by deep NCAA tournament runs from rivals Ohio State and Michigan State. There's also less reason for future optimism after LeVert announces at the conclusion of the postseason that he's NBA-bound.   

21. UTAH
Last year's record: 21-12, 9-9
Key returners: G Delon Wright, F Jordan Loveridge, G Brandon Taylor, C Dallin Bachynski, G/F Dakarai Tucker, F Jeremy Olsen
Notable newcomers: F Brekkott Chapman, F Kyle Kuzma, G Chris Reyes, F Isaiah Wright, C Jakob Poeltl
Best-case scenario: It wasn't long ago that Utah had such a threadbare roster coach Larry Krystkowiak had to schedule opponents like San Diego Christian and College of Idaho just to make sure the Utes had a winning record before league play. Those days are long gone now. With their top six scorers back from a 21-win team and a solid recruiting class providing added depth, the Utes emerge as the most viable challenger to Arizona in a league that lost a lot of talent from last season. Wright, a first-team all-league selection last season, validates his decision to return to school, solidifying himself as a first-round pick by finishing in the top five in the Pac-12 in scoring, assists and steals. Loveridge excels as well after shifting to his more natural small forward spot, while Taylor and freshmen Kuzma and Chapman provide complimentary scoring. Utah's smothering perimeter defense again defends beyond the 3-point arc, secure that Bachynski is lurking in the paint to erase mistakes. The Utes hang in the race with Arizona until the last weekend of the regular season before settling for second place in the Pac-12. Then, in only its second NCAA tournament appearance since 2005, the Utes reach the Sweet 16 before falling a bucket short against top-seeded Kentucky in a near-monumental upset. The loss stings but Utes fans console themselves by offering condescending congratulations to BYU on its NIT bid.
Worst-case scenario: Maybe Krystkowiak should have scheduled San Diego Christian and College of Idaho again. Utah more resembles the team blasted by Arizona in the Pac-12 quarterfinals and Saint Mary's in the opening round of the NIT last season than the one that crept into NCAA tournament contention in the weeks prior to that. Overmatched athletically against the best teams on their schedule and lacking enough scorers to complement Wright and Loveridge, the Utes struggle against a beefed-up non-conference slate featuring four marquee road games. They fare only marginally better once Pac-12 play begins as last year's issues closing out close games and winning away from home resurface. Strong defense and the all-around brilliance of Wright help the Utes claw their way within sight of the NCAA tournament bubble by the start of the Pac-12 tournament, but any hope of a bid vanishes when UCLA runs Utah off the floor in the quarterfinals. Again, the Utes settle for an NIT bid. Again, NCAA tournament-bound BYU fans offer condescending congratulations. Again, Utah falls flat in round one. 

22. OHIO STATE
Last year's record: 25-10, 10-8
Key returners: G Shannon Scott, F Marc Loving, F Sam Thompson, C Amir Williams, G Kam Williams
Notable newcomers: F Anthony Lee, G D'Angelo Russell, F Keita Bates-Diop, F Jae'Sean Tate
Best-case scenario: Can Ohio State really improve its inconsistent offense despite losing its three leading scorers? Thanks to the arrival of a deep, talented crop of newcomers, the answer is yes. Russell, a slender but highly touted 6-foot-5 guard, starts from day one, scores in bunches and provides badly needed perimeter shooting. He and fellow freshmen Bates-Diop and Tate are an ideal complement to Scott and Thompson, the former a distributing and defensive dynamo at point guard and the latter a high-flying slasher more comfortable scoring near the rim. The Buckeyes also generate more offense in the paint because of Lee, a former Temple standout who was one of the most coveted one-year transfers on the market last spring. Lee also bolsters the Buckeyes rebounding, a major issue all of last season. Fueled by better rebounding and perimeter shooting and an always-stingy defense, Ohio State improves as the freshmen develop and emerges as Wisconsin's top challenger in the Big Ten. The momentum carries into the NCAA tournament, where the Buckeyes avenge last year's loss to Dayton with a cathartic round of 32 victory and advance all the way to the Elite Eight. Meanwhile in Ann Arbor, Michigan endures a down season. Buckeyes fans who spent all winter poking fun at the Wolverines' once-proud football program now have something else to joke about.
Worst-case scenario: The downside of counting heavily on freshmen is it can sometimes backfire, and that's exactly what befalls Ohio State. Russell contributes from day one, but he's not the go-to threat the Buckeyes desperately need. Bates-Diop and Tate come along more slowly and fall out of Matta's notoriously tight rotation by the start of Big Ten play. The Buckeyes are a better rebounding team because of the addition to Lee, but their outside shooting remains a weakness and their typically strong perimeter defense takes a small step backward without Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. The result is that Ohio State lacks the consistency to compete for the Big Ten title and struggles to even match last year's modest success. The Buckeyes don't have to worry about crashing out of the NCAA tournament in the opening round again this season because they settle for an NIT bid. Meanwhile in Ann Arbor, Michigan exceeds expectations yet again and reaches the Elite Eight. Buckeyes fans who spent all winter poking fun at the Wolverines' once-proud football program have the tables turned on them in March.

23. SYRACUSE
Last year's record: 28-6, 14-4
Key returners: G Trevor Cooney, F Rakeem Christmas, F Tyler Roberson, G Michael Gbinije, F Dajuan Coleman, G Ron Patterson
Notable newcomers: G Kaleb Joseph, F Chris McCullough
Best-case scenario: For a program that lost its three leading scorers from a team that shot below 40 percent in all six of its losses last season, Syracuse is better than expected offensively. Joseph, the only true point guard on the roster, inherits the starting job from Tyler Ennis and plays beyond his years, providing instant offense with his ability to attack off the dribble. McCullough, one of the most athletically gifted big men in this year's freshman class, runs the floor exceptionally, finishes in transition with aplomb and excels at crashing the offensive and defensive glass. He and Roberson help the Orange replace what they lost when Jerami Grant and C.J. Fair left for the NBA. With the newcomers contributing immediately, Cooney providing lights-out 3-point shooting and Christmas providing timely buckets and anchoring the two-three zone, Syracuse surges into contention in the ACC. The Orange fall a win short of the league title but they take some consolation in knocking new rival Duke out of the race with a Feb. 26 upset in Durham — and, yes, Jim Boeheim keeps his jacket on and his temper in check through the final buzzer this time. Then the Orange make a deep enough NCAA tournament run that all the snow on campus has melted by the time they return.
Worst-case scenario:
With Ennis, Grant and Fair all in the NBA, Syracuse is worse offensively at the start of this season than it was at the end of last season. The point guard position is the biggest problem as Joseph makes poor decisions with the ball and struggles to create opportunities for his teammates and Gbinije still looks ill-suited to the position off the bench. McCullough also is inconsistent, sprinkling in enough moments of promise to tantalize Syracuse fans but seldom playing well for long stretches at a time. With the freshmen enduring growing pains, more pressure falls to Cooney and Christmas offensively ... and neither can handle it. Cooney misfires early and often from the perimeter as teams view him as the player they can't let beat them now. And Christmas, for all his defensive gifts, just isn't a consistent source of back-to-the-basket offense. Neither is the injury-plagued Coleman, who never gets healthy enough to make much impact this season. The wizardry of Syracuse's two-three zone keeps the Orange competitive in the ACC, but too many turnovers and ill-advised shots frequently come back to bite them late in close games. As a result, Syracuse slips out of contention for the ACC title by Feb. 1 and then collapses amid a daunting stretch of the schedule in February and March. Boeheim's caustic press conferences are the only highlight as Syracuse finishes the season on a seven-game losing streak and misses the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008. As punishment, Boeheim makes every player stay in blizzard-ravaged Syracuse during spring break.

24. NEBRASKA
Last year's record:
19-13, 11-7
Key returners: G Terran Petteway, G Shavon Shields, G Tai Webster, F Walter Pitchford, F Leslee Smith, F David Rivers, G Benny Parker, F Nick Fuller
Notable newcomers: F Moses Abraham, G Tarin Smith, F/C Jake Hammond
Best-case scenario: Raucous sellout crowds, marquee wins and national headlines become the new normal for Nebraska basketball as the Huskers build on their strong finish to the regular season last year. Petteway emerges as a legitimate Big Ten player of the year candidate, putting up similar scoring numbers as last year but hitting a higher percentage of his outside shots and cutting down on the turnovers. He gets plenty of help offensively from Shields, another slashing wing with good size and athleticism. Frontcourt defense is much stronger this season because of the addition of Abraham, a 6-foot-9 defensive-minded center who went by Moses Ayegba at Georgetown. Abraham pairs well with Pitchford, a non-traditional big man more comfortable shooting pick and pop jumpers than muscling for position in the paint. Nobody overlooks Nebraska this season, but it doesn't matter because the Huskers are good enough to take opponents' best shot and still win anyway — especially at home where they're almost unbeatable with their crowd behind them. Nebraska emerges as the top challenger to Wisconsin in the Big Ten, reaches the NCAA tournament for the second straight season and performs much better than last season's opening-round flameout. The Huskers win an NCAA tournament game for the first time in program history ... and then they win another. Even after the run ends, the party keeps going as Petteway announces he'll be back for his senior season, giving the Huskers a real chance at a Final Four run. Nebraska a basketball school? Believe it. 
Worst-case scenario: Raucous sellout crowds, marquee wins and national headlines prove to be a one-year wonder for Nebraska basketball as the Huskers fail to build on their strong finish from last season. Opponents defend Nebraska more intelligently this season, taking away driving lanes from Petteway and Shields and forcing them to knock down outside shots. Their erratic shooting puts more pressure on Nebraska's point guards to make plays — not a good thing since that's an area of concern for the Huskers. Webster's confidence is still shaken from a rough finish to his freshman season and proves too turnover-prone once again. Parker's defense is still much more of an asset than his offense and the talented Smith isn't ready to make an immediate impact as a freshman. Unexpected losses pile up early in Big Ten play and waning enthusiasm makes Pinnacle Bank Arena less of an advantage for the Huskers. Nebraska is still good enough to salvage an NIT bid but there's no return trip to the NCAA tournament. Petteway turns pro and Husker fans start looking ahead to spring football. Nebraska a basketball school? Not yet.

25. UCLA
Last year's record: 28-9, 12-6
Key returners: G Norman Powell, G Bryce Alford, C Tony Parker, G-F Noah Allen, F Wanaah Bail
Notable newcomers: G Isaac Hamilton, F Kevon Looney, C Thomas Welsh
Best-case scenario: A skeptical fan base warms up to Steve Alford when he withstands the early departures of first-round picks Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine and still matches last year's success. The frontcourt is the strength of the team as Parker flourishes in his first season as starting center, Welsh continues to blossom as the top reserve and Looney delivers the best freshman season by a UCLA player since Kevin Love. Bail also provides solid defense and rebounding off the bench, taking the minutes that would have gone to ineligible freshman Jonah Bolden. Concerns over UCLA's lack of backcourt depth prove overblown as the Bruins avoid injuries and get better guard play than expected. Neither Hamilton nor Bryce Alford are classic point guards, but both grow into the job, taking care of the ball and creating scoring opportunities for themselves and their teammates. And Powell emerges as one of the Pac-12's top wings now that he's free from the shadow of Adams, LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad. UCLA establishes itself as the Pac-12's best team besides Arizona in the regular season and reaches a second straight Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. Nobody's satisfied since UCLA only hangs title banners, but there's hope one of those could be on the way sooner than later. Bucking the trend at UCLA over the years, Looney decides to stay in school rather than turn pro and No. 1 overall recruit Jaylen Brown signs with the Bruins in the spring.
Worst-case scenario: The few UCLA fans who bother to show up to Pauley Pavilion for the last home games of the season do so only to boo Alford. That's how caustic things get in Westwood during a humbling 2014-15 season. Concerns over UCLA only carrying three scholarship guards on its roster prove warranted as foul trouble and injuries force the Bruins to give walk-ons playing time or play big men out of position. Furthermore, UCLA struggles to take advantage of all its frontcourt talent because it lacks a true point guard capable of getting players the ball in positions to score. For all his talent attacking the rim, Hamilton is programmed to do one thing, and that's score. And Alford is an undersized shooting guard masquerading as a point guard, not an ideal fit on offense and a major liability defensively. The other issue is that UCLA's lack of bench options force its big men to play out of position. Parker has to play extended minutes alongside Welsh at the four even though he is better suited to guarding centers than forwards and Looney is forced to play some small forward even though he is more effective defending the paint than the perimeter. Too many players playing out of position and too little depth prevents UCLA from challenging for an NCAA tournament bid, let alone making a push for the Pac-12 crown. Worse yet, Looney announces he's leaving for the NBA in the locker room after the Pac-12 tournament and Brown chooses in-state Georgia over the Bruins. And with that, at a school that expects Final Fours and national championships, Alford looks far away from contending for either anytime soon.

OTHERS TO WATCH: SMU, Harvard, Pittsburgh, Kansas State, Georgia State, Memphis, Georgetown, Iowa, Stanford, BYU, Colorado, LSU, Indiana, Georgia

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 6, 2014, 5:29 pm

Midnight Madness produces some memorable moments each year, so The Dagger is chronicling the best ones from this October's lineup. If you spot something we missed, let us know here or here.

Kennedy Meeks at Late Night With Roy (via UNC Athletics YouTube)The funniest part of North Carolina's annual "Late Night with Roy" event wasn't Roy Williams showing off his dance moves, Marcus Paige singing some Beyonce or Bobby Frasor cracking on Duke. That paled in comparison to the incredible lip sync performance sophomore Kennedy Meeks delivered to Whitney Houston's "I Will Love You." The slimmed-down 6-foot-10 center went all out, even going down to his knees and writhing on the ground at the height of the chorus to the delight of the crowd and the amusement of his teammates. The only thing that would have made the performance better is if he had tried to hit Whitney's high notes too. Of course, there were a few serious moments at "Late Night" this year in addition to all the lighthearted ones. The North Carolina crowd welcomed women's coach Sylvia Hatchell back to the sideline with a standing ovation after she missed all of last season while battling leukemia. Paige also led the fans in a chant of "Get Well Stu" in honor of ESPN anchor and Tar Heels alum Stuart Scott, who is again battling cancer.

More from the Best of Midnight Madness series:

North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks performs 'I will always love you'

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 4, 2014, 6:31 pm

Friday is the first day of practice for most Division I college basketball teams. Yahoo Sports begins its season preview coverage with a look at some of the key questions facing the nation's top programs and the answers that could emerge between now and the new season tipping off Nov. 14.   

1. How will Kentucky divvy up playing time among its nine McDonald's All-Americans?

John Calipari's chief issue entering practice should come with the hashtag #titlecontenderproblems. The savvy Kentucky coach has to find enough playing time to satisfy every member of a talent-rich roster that boasts a record-tying nine former McDonald's All-Americans and a tenth player, center Willie Cauley-Stein, who is projected to be taken in the first round of next June's NBA draft.

The challenge will be most daunting in the frontcourt, where Kentucky boasts three 7-foot centers, fellow big men Marcus Lee and Trey Lyles and 6-foot-8 combo forward Alex Poythress, who is far more effective near the rim than he is on the perimeter. Either Poythress and one of his teammates will be logging major minutes at small forward, or one or two highly touted big men will not be part of Kentucky's rotation. 

Calipari's initial solution has been introducing the idea of employing a platoon system of separate five-man units, each playing almost exactly half the game. The Kentucky coach also has hired an analytics specialist whose job description includes keeping players happy by showing them — and NBA scouts — how their stats would look were they playing 30-32 minutes per game. 

That system worked fine during a tour of the Bahamas this summer and it will surely be just as effective against exhibition opponents and overmatched lower-tier Division I foes. But nobody with half a brain thinks Calipari will stick to that approach in the second half of close games against elite competition when Kentucky needs its best players on the floor in their proper positions. It's then that we'll truly find out if the Wildcats are each willing to sacrifice for the good of the team. 

2. Can Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones play alongside one-another at Duke? 

Just like Calipari, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has an enviable problem to work through this fall. He has barely a month to decide whether senior Quinn Cook will retain the starting point guard job, consensus top 15 recruit Tyus Jones will replace him or both will start alongside one-another at the expense of one of the Blue Devils' wings.

For Duke, the advantage of starting Cook and Jones together is having two ball handlers on the floor, both of whom can attack off the dribble, find their teammates for open shots or knock down floaters and jumpers themselves. The disadvantage is that it takes either 6-foot-5 Rasheed Sulaimon or 6-foot-6 Justise Winslow off the floor, making the Blue Devils smaller and less effective guarding the ball on the perimeter. Duke was woeful defensively last season, though the presence of a true center to defend the paint should help.  

Both Cook and Jones are saying the right things so far, insisting that it's not a competition, that they're both out to make the team better and that going against one-another in practice is making both better. Krzyzewski has been publicly non-committal but he did name Cook a team captain earlier this week. Take that as a sign he views Cook as an integral part of the starting lineup for now. The best guess on where things stand entering practice? Cook, Jones and Winslow starting with Sulaimon coming off the bench.

3. Who will win Kansas' point guard competition?

Leading returning scorer Perry Ellis and elite recruit Cliff Alexander and form a formidable frontcourt duo. Breakout candidate Wayne Selden and top prospect Kelly Oubre are a potent pair at wing. Really the only question facing Kansas entering the new season is will one of its unproven point guards will solidify a position that was a season-long weakness last year? 

With erratic Naadir Tharpe leaving the program after the season, Kansas' best options are either freshman Devonte Graham or sophomores Frank Mason or Conner Frankamp. Graham is a late-blooming top 100 prospect who spent an extra season in prep school after Appalachian State refused to release him from his letter of intent. Mason excelled at creating off the dribble as a backup last season and Frankamp is a deadly shooter who would need to prove he can be effective distributing as a point guard. 

The man to beat is probably Mason because of his experience, but Self has said he wants multiple ball handlers in his rotation. Expect Frankamp to fill that role as the first guard off the bench with Graham carving out a bigger role for himself too as the season goes along. The freshman is bigger than Mason and more athletic than Frankamp but may need time to get stronger and to acclimate himself to high-level Division I basketball. 

Myles Turner (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)

4. How will highly touted Myles Turner fit into Texas' crowded frontcourt rotation? 

Texas already returned its top four big men from a frontcourt that dominated the paint and controlled the glass last season. Adding highly touted five-star freshman Myles Turner to that quartet could either bolster an already strong group or create an unwieldy logjam that leaves veterans grumbling about a newcomer eating into their minutes.

One way Rick Barnes could diffuse that potential problem is by sliding 6-foot-8 Jonathan Holmes from power forward to small forward. Holmes has the skill and shooting ability to play extended minutes on the perimeter, but he was extremely efficient in the paint offensively last season and he may lack the agility and lateral quickness to defend opposing wings. 

If Holmes proves ill-suited for the perimeter, that will force Barnes to play three guards again this season and will leave him with only 80 minutes to divvy up among five deserving frontcourt standouts. Turner is an athletic 7-footer who thrives running the floor, blocking shots and knocking down mid-range jumpers. Ridley is a space-eating back-to-the-basket scorer who nearly averaged a double-double last season. Holmes led Texas in scoring and shot 51.2 percent from the field. And Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh established themselves as two of the nation's most effective backup big men.

5. How does San Diego State replace do-it-all point guard Xavier Thames? 

With all but two rotation players returning from a 31-win team and the highest-ranked freshman class in school history set to make its debut, San Diego State is well positioned to again establish itself as one of the West's elite teams next season. The only warning sign is the Aztecs will have to find a way to make up for the graduation of Xavier Thames.

Though Thames averaged 17.6 points, 3.2 assists and 1.6 steals last season, stats don't begin to fully demonstrate his impact. Not only was he San Diego State's emotional leader, he also was the Aztecs' offensive catalyst, creating opportunities for himself or his teammates off high ball screens whenever the shot clock began to bleed dry.  

San Diego State's heir apparent at point guard will either be freshman Kevin Zabo or returning role players Aqeel Quinn and D'Erryl Williams. Quinn and Williams can set up the offense and play solid defense, but they're better suited to a backup role, meaning the Aztecs will be hoping Zabo proves capable of seizing the job right away.

Regardless, replacing Thames' perimeter scoring output will be a collective burden shared by Dwayne Polee Jr., Winston Shepard, Matt Shrigley and perhaps some of the freshmen if they prove ready as the season goes along. Polee excelled late last season as a complementary scorer to Thames, while Shepard is an elite talent whose erratic decision making and wayward outside shot can sometimes overshadow his ability to attack the rim.

6. How prepared are Kaleb Joseph and Chris McCullough to star right away for Syracuse?

What happens when the three leading scorers leave a Syracuse program that already struggled to generate enough offense late last season? Either some young, inexperienced players are going to have to make an immediate impact, or the Orange will frequently resemble the team that shot below 40 percent in each of its six losses last February and March.

With C.J. Fair graduating and Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant leaving early for the NBA, the only-double digit scorer Syracuse brings back is senior Trevor Cooney, a shooting guard who gets his points mostly off catch-and-shoot opportunities. Defensive-minded big man Rakeem Christmas could become a bigger focal point offensively this season, but the players with the best chance of evolving into the catalysts Syracuse desperately needs are decorated freshmen Kaleb Joseph and Chris McCullough. 

Joseph, the only true point guard on the roster, is the obvious candidate to inherit the starting job from the ultra-efficient Ennis, joining his predecessor, Jonny Flynn, Gerry McNamara and Pearl Washington as point guards who have started as freshmen for the Orange. He should instantly provide offense too. Whereas Ennis was a crafty pass-first point guard whose first instinct was to distribute rather than score, Joseph excels at getting by his man with his strength and explosiveness but is still learning how to create shots for others in addition to himself.

The bigger wild card is McCullough, a 6-foot-10 forward rated Rivals.com's No. 19 recruit in the Class of 2014. One of the most athletically gifted big men in this year's freshman class, McCullough runs the floor exceptionally, finishes in transition with aplomb and excels at crashing the offensive and defensive glass. He and sophomore Tyler Roberson are the two most likely candidates to replace what Syracuse lost when Fair and Grant left. 

7. Will anyone emerge as a solution for Indiana's frontcourt woes? 

Indiana boasts one of the Big Ten's premier point guards in Yogi Ferrell and a wealth of options at wing, so why aren't the Hoosiers appearing in most preseason Top 25 polls? Well, it probably has something to do with a frontcourt so unproven that Tom Crean worked feverishly to try to find a late addition this summer before ultimately 6-foot-7 Emmit Holt in late August.

Holt joins a frontcourt that also includes fellow freshman Jeremiah April and returners Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Devin Davis, a duo that combined to average all of 5.2 points and 4.7 rebounds in limited minutes last season. Indiana will be thrilled if the 6-foot-9 Mosquera-Perea develops into a tough interior defender and rebounder who sets solid screens and consistently finishes around the rim. Davis also is in line for increased playing time if he can cut down on his turnovers and fouls and emerge as a force on the glass. 

One other potential solution for Indiana is to go small in an effort to maximize the impact of its plethora of wings and diminish the role of a frontcourt lacking talent. That would probably mean Troy Williams would see a lot of time at the four, a potentially successful strategy if the 6-foot-7 sophomore can defend opposing power forwards a la Glenn Robinson III at Michigan. Indiana would also have to rebound collectively as a unit to make up for only having one true big man on the floor.   

8. Who will Wichita State tab as Cleanthony Early's replacement in the lineup? 

Just like Wichita State had to prove it could succeed without point guard Malcolm Armstead and big man Carl Hall last season, the Shockers have another key player they must find a way to replace this year. Second-team All-American Cleanthony Early is now with the New York Knicks, leaving a void of 16.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game for the Shockers to fill at power forward. 

The leading candidates to start alongside 6-foot-7 back-to-the-basket scoring specialist Darius Carter are junior college transfers Tevin Glass and Tom Wamukota, redshirt freshman Shaquille Morris or true freshmen Rauno Nurger or Rashard Kelly. It's also possible Wichita State could go ultra-small with four guards and play 6-foot-5 Evan Wessell for extended minutes at the four. 

The decision of who starts will probably come down to a combination of which newcomer shows the most promise in practice and what coach Gregg Marshall values most. If it's size and shot blocking, the 7-foot Wamukota may be the choice. If it's athleticism and rebounding, the 6-foot-8 Glass could get the nod. Don't count out the 6-foot-10 Nurger or 6-foot-7 Morris either. Nurger has plenty of experience for a freshman after a year in prep school and time with the Estonian national team, while Morris has shed 20 pounds since last season and hopes to prove being in better shape can help him stay injury-free.  

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 3, 2014, 1:42 pm

Butler's quest to remain nationally relevant without Brad Stevens just became a lot more difficult. 

The school announced Thursday that head coach Brandon Miller is taking a medical leave of absence to address an unspecified health issue. Assistant coach Chris Holtmann will step in as interim head coach while Miller is away from the program.

"Brandon Miller has requested a leave of absence for medical reasons, which the University has granted," Butler athletic director Barry Collier said in a release.  "We are not in a position to further elaborate and we ask that everyone respect Brandon's privacy." 

It's difficult to assess the big picture for Butler accurately without knowing more about Miller's condition, but that's secondary to the second-year coach's health. Miller is only 35 years old, so this scare is both abrupt and unexpected. 

From a basketball standpoint, the timing couldn't be much worse for Butler with Friday being the first day of fall practice for most Division I teams.

The Bulldogs are attempting to bounce back from a difficult season in which they went 14-17 overall and 4-14 in their Big East debut, raising questions about the program's long-term future now that Stevens has left for the Boston Celtics. Expectations were a bit higher entering this season with Miller in his second year and standout forward Roosevelt Jones back from last year's season-ending injury.

For now, it will be up to Holtmann — Miller's first hire last year — to keep the Butler program afloat.

Holtmann's previous Division I head coaching experience consists of three seasons at Gardner-Webb, where he compiled a 44-54 record from 2010-2013. He steps into a far more high-profile gig now at a critical time for the Butler program.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 2, 2014, 5:34 pm

Cameron Biedscheid is leaving Missouri without ever actually playing a game for the Tigers.

Nine months after the former top 50 recruit transferred from Notre Dame, new Missouri coach Kim Anderson announced in a statement that Biedscheid has decided to leave the school "to attend to personal matters.” Biedscheid, a 6-foot-7 sophomore wing, would have been eligible after the first semester.

“Cameron will no longer be a member of our basketball program," Anderson said. “We wish him and his family all the best and hope everyone will respect their privacy during this period of time.”

The loss of Biedscheid is a blow to a Missouri team bereft of talent at guard after Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown both turned pro and Shane Rector transferred. Biedscheid averaged a modest 6.2 points in 17.4 minutes as a freshman at Notre Dame, but the Saint Louis product had been expected to assume a far greater role last season before opting to first redshirt and later transfer.

Without Biedscheid, Missouri has limited options to play at wing alongside point guard Wes Clark. Athletic Baylor transfer Deuce Bello is a strong candidate to start at one wing spot, though his production never matched his potential in two full seasons with the Bears and he has dealt with leg injuries since coming to Columbia. The other starting spot will probably go to a freshman, with top 100 recruit Namon Wright being the most likely option.

As for Biedscheid, this news raises questions regarding whether his career will ever get back on track.

He'll have to sit another full year if he transfers to another Division I program, meaning he wouldn't be able to play until the start of the 2015-16 season. His high school pedigree certainly will merit him another chance somewhere, but given the chaos of Biedscheid's past 12 months, it wouldn't be a surprise to see high-profile schools shy away too.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 1, 2014, 5:31 pm

Typically accustomed to being the punchline in jokes, the NCAA landed a clever jab of its own Tuesday night. 

When Major League Baseball's official Twitter account proclaimed October the best month of the sporting calendar, the operator of the NCAA's March Madness account didn't need long to come up with the ideal response.

Questionable. RT @MLB: Tomorrow is October - the greatest month of the year. #postseason pic.twitter.com/Gs5k5i186d

— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) October 1, 2014

Of course, the NCAA will get no argument from this blog that March Madness trumps anything the baseball playoffs can deliver, but Tuesday night was certainly not the night to make such an argument. Not after the Kansas City Royals rallied from a pair of deficits to edge Oakland 9-8 and extend their first postseason appearance in 29 years at least another week.

The theater provided by A's-Royals was so heart-pounding that it even converted a basketball player who starred in one of the great NCAA tournament games in recent memory.  

October the best month out the year

— Jordan Crawford (@jcraw55) October 1, 2014

October will be fun, no doubt. But the baseball playoffs will have to be awfully good to produce a list of great moments more fun than these.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: October 1, 2014, 6:08 am

Having missed the NCAA tournament for the second straight year, lost Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten to the NBA draft and missed out on a handful of potential replacements on the recruiting trail, Lorenzo Romar entered the summer of 2013 eager to replenish his roster.

To help him do it, he shook up his staff, opting not to renew the contracts of longtime assistants Jim Shaw and Paul Fortier and hiring T.J. Otzelberger and Raphael Chillious in their place. Oztelberger had established himself as a top recruiter while helping Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg revive that program. Chillious had played a key role in recruiting Isaiah Thomas to Washington before leaving for a year to join Jay Wright's staff at Villanova.

The impact of that staff makeover is apparent in the loaded Class of 2015 Washington has assembled this summer. The Huskies added their fourth Rivals 150 commit on Monday night as small forward Matisse Thybulle tweeted he would be staying in-state and playing for Romar at Washington.

Thybulle, a late-blooming 6-foot-6 wing rated the No. 120 prospect in Rivals.com's Class of 2015, chose Washington over Gonzaga, Oregon and Cal. He joins a class that includes 6-foot-8 Northern California product Marquese Chriss (No. 46) and Seattle natives Dejounte Murray (No. 51) and David Crisp (148).

Landing a class of that caliber is critical for Romar in his quest to get his program back to contending for Pac-12 titles and quiet the growing number of Huskies fans pushing for a change in leadership.

Washington won the Pac-12 title in 2012 behind Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten but missed the NCAA tournament in a historically weak year for the conference. When Ross and Wroten both left early for the NBA the following spring and Washington missed on potential top recruits Aaron Gordon, Jabari Bird and others, the program lacked sufficient talent to compete in the Pac-12 and went a combined 35-31 the past two years. 

Expectations for next season again are modest despite the return of forward Jernard Jerreau from injury and the presence of a strong backcourt of Nigel Williams-Goss and Andrew Andrews.

Should those three opt to stay in school one more year and play with the incoming recruits, however, the Huskies could be back to their former place in the Pac-12 pecking order. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: September 30, 2014, 2:35 pm

Chris Jones shows off Louisville's new jerseys (via @PhilHecken)When Under Armour outfitted South Florida in outlandish board-shorts style jerseys during the 2013 Big East tournament, the look didn't generate much buzz since the low-profile Bulls only wore them one day before getting eliminated. 

Little did anyone realize the cheap board shorts look would return 18 months later on a vastly more high-profile team.

Photos of Louisville's new Adidas jerseys popped up on social media Thursday, and the look features a similar thick stripe across the shorts as the uniforms South Florida wore. The shorts are bad enough that one clever Cardinals fan astutely compared them to "swimming trunks you buy at an out-of-town Target when you forget the hotel has a pool."

Bad as the shorts are — and they're awful — they're not the worst jersey Adidas has dumped on Louisville in recent years. 

By far the biggest eyesore was the sleeved Zubaz-print look the Cardinals wore during the 2013 NCAA tournament on the way to the national championship. Then there was the iridescent infrared look Louisville sported the previous year as it advanced to the Final Four, a jersey I actually grew to like but most people seemed to despise. 

The "Red Stripe" jersey doesn't seem likely to grow more tolerable after multiple viewings. It's a good look if you're trying to recruit Will Smith out of Bel Air Academy in the early 90s. It's a bad look if you're trying to land prospects who weren't even born when the Fresh Prince of Bel Air premiered. 

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: September 25, 2014, 8:31 pm

Many college athletes feel exploited when they see their image on a billboard advertising season ticket packages or their jersey being sold at the campus bookstore.

Maryland wing Dez Wells experienced the same sensation at a completely unexpected juncture.

Wells received a message from a friend who was flipping through the pages of his human anatomy textbook and found a picture of the 6-foot-6 senior playing basketball for Xavier a few years ago on the first page of a chapter entitled "Qualitative biomechanical analysis to improve training." That predictably floored Wells enough that he tweeted a photo of the page and his thoughts on discovering himself in it.

I'm in a human anatomy book & has no idea! College books cost a lot too #ShowMeTheMoney #NCAAhttp://t.co/MwnOXwIRv5

— Dez Wells (@Dez32Wells) September 23, 2014

The Sporting News did some quick digging and found that the book is entitled "Biomechanics of Sport and Exercise" and costs $74.44 on Amazon, not a penny of which will go to Wells. That seems reasonable since he's not essential to the book the way he is to ticket or jersey sales, but it's a testament to the charged climate in college athletics today that even something this small would inspire that reaction from Wells.

(Thanks, Sporting News)

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: September 23, 2014, 9:23 pm

Forget blood moons, plagues of locusts or the Cubs hoisting a World Series trophy.

The surest sign the end of the world may be near is Memphis coach Josh Pastner finally upgrading his cell phone.

Seven years after Apple unveiled the iPhone and rendered all previous phone models obsolete, Pastner has finally come to his senses and ditched the Samsung flip phone he had infamously clung to with white-knuckle fists. Pastner caved and purchased an iPhone on Monday, 92.9 FM in Memphis reported, because his flip phone no longer allowed him to add anymore contacts.

It might seem silly for the model of a coach's phone to be newsworthy, but Pastner's bizarre allegiance to his flip phone has become legendary in college basketball circles. He told USA Today last year that he had no intention of switching to a smartphone at that time even though the responsibilities of a college hoops coach demand that Pastner be on the phone as much as a few hours a day during key recruiting periods. 

"This is a dinosaur phone, there's no doubt," Pastner told USA Today. "Everyone's surprised when they see it. They can't believe it. I tell them, 'Hey, we've signed a lot of good players with this phone.' It's dependable and reliable. It can fall on the floor, break apart and you can put it right back together." 

What kind of phone did Pastner purchase to replace his trusty flip phone? Per the 92.9FM report, it was an iPhone 5s.

Yes, Apple just released the iPhone 6 this month, but baby steps. Better that Pastner is a model behind than a decade behind, right?

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: September 23, 2014, 6:20 am

The uproar over the ill-conceived illustration in the Louisville Courier-Journal last Friday ended in the most amiable way possible.

The newspaper printed a letter from executive editor Neil Budde on Monday apologizing for the illustration that featured Kentucky coach John Calipari's head on the body of a diaper-clad baby.

The illustration ran with an otherwise reasonable column by Tim Sullivan that focused on the perceived advantages of coaching USA Basketball and the tendency of coaches to complain when a competitor gains even the slightest edge. Budde's letter acknowledged the illustration didn't match the tone of the column and was needlessly disrespectful to Calipari.

Dear Coach Calipari,

Please accept our apology for the inappropriate illustration used with a column in last Friday’s Courier-Journal. The illustration reflected neither the tone of the column it accompanied nor our editorial standards.

This was a failure in our procedures. We have reiterated to those involved and our entire staff that any illustration of this nature must be approved by senior editors, which did not happen in this case.

We regret that this episode cast a bad light on you and the University of Kentucky basketball team.

Sincerely,

Neil Budde

Executive Editor

The sole connection between Calipari and the USA Basketball debate came via an accusation from Jim Boeheim, who said the Kentucky coach has complained about the access to recruits that USA Basketball coaches have.

Calipari has never publicly made such a complaint — and nor should he considering his stint as coach of the Dominican national team surely contributed to Kentucky landing elite big man Karl Towns. The Kentucky coach did not deny Boeheim's accusation when he addressed it via Twitter, but he was complimentary of the job Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski have done with USA Basketball. 

"The job that Coach K and Coach Boeheim have done to turn around USA Basketball, to make it what it is today is truly amazing," Calipari wrote. "If – and I emphasize if – they gained any advantage, because of that work, I don't begrudge them in the least."

Calipari had not commented on the Courier-Journal illustration until Monday when he accepted the newspaper's apology.

I appreciate the @courierjournal's apology. Although it was something they didn't need to do, it's something most papers wouldn't have done.

— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) September 22, 2014

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: September 22, 2014, 10:47 pm

Here's the most exciting aspect of Nebraska basketball's recent resurgence under coach Tim Miles: The best may be yet to come.

Not only are the Huskers poised to contend in the Big Ten next season, they also are assembling a formidable recruiting class set to arrive the following year as well. 

Nebraska bolstered that class Monday when it secured a commitment from Edward Morrow, a 6-foot-7 forward from famed Chicago power Simeon High School. Morrow, Rivals.com's No. 103 prospect in the class of 2015, is the second top 150 recruit the Huskers have landed, joining 5-foot-11 point guard Glynn Watson. Consensus three-star forward Michael Jacobson and Kansas transfer Andrew White round out a class that should collectively upgrade Nebraska's talent level.

Putting together a class of that caliber is virtually unprecedented at Nebraska, a school located in a state with a scarce supply of basketball talent. The Huskers hadn't made the NCAA tournament since 1998 prior to last season in part because they lacked sufficient in-state talent to compete nationally and couldn't lure enough top prospects from neighboring states.

One reason Miles is enjoying more success is the investment Nebraska has made in its facilities, from a $20 million practice facility that opened in 2011 to a state-of-the-art $179 million arena the school unveiled last fall. Miles has also been allowed to pay top dollar for his assistant coaches, enabling him to lure Kenya Hunter from Georgetown and Chris Harriman from Saint Louis.

The commitment from Morrow was no surprise considering his parents both went to Nebraska and he has favored the Huskers throughout his recruitment, but it's still impressive considering how many other schools make a concerted effort to recruit Chicago. Miles prioritized Morrow during the July evaluation period and wowed him on his official visit this past weekend, out-dueling Big Ten rival Iowa in the end to get the commitment.

With the core of a surprising NCAA tournament team back this season, Nebraska should be among the top challengers to Wisconsin in the Big Ten. And with a deep recruiting class set to arrive next fall, the Huskers won't fall from relevance anytime soon.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: September 22, 2014, 8:07 pm

The cover of Friday's Louisville Courier-Journal sports page (via Reddit)Any Kentucky fans who turned to the front of the Louisville Courier-Journal sports page Friday morning likely weren't pleased with what they saw.

The photo illustration that ran alongside an otherwise fair column by Tim Sullivan looked like something a Louisville fan would have posted to a Cardinals messageboard.

Since Sullivan's piece focused on the perceived advantages of coaching USA Basketball and the tendency of coaches to complain when a competitor gains even the slightest edge, someone at the newspaper chose to accompany it with a photoshopped picture of John Calipari's face atop a baby's body. Yes, the image of Calipari in diapers is pretty hilarious. However, it's also a terrible decision from a journalistic or business standpoint. 

Most importantly, it's not fair to Calipari. Though Jim Boeheim accused Calipari on Wednesday of complaining to both him and USA Basketball about the extra access to prospects that Duke and Syracuse coaches receive, the Kentucky coach has never publicly made any such statement. In fact, he handled Boeheim's comments with class on Thursday in a string of tweets.

"Jim's comments were brought to my attention & I called him," Calipari wrote. "We are friends. I have unbelievable respect for him & how he runs his program. Any concerns that college coaches have had in the past have always been addressed by USA basketball. ..."The job that Coach K and Coach Boeheim have done to turn around USA Basketball, to make it what it is today is truly amazing. ... If – and I emphasize if – they gained any advantage, because of that work, I don't begrudge them in the least."

The Calipari-baby illustration also simply isn't good business. Louisville is a city with split allegiances, one with nearly as many Cats fans as Cardinals supporters. Reporters and editors are taught to prioritize good journalism over everything, but given the struggling financial state of most newspapers, you probably want to have a good reason to anger half your subscriber base, and this certainly wasn't it.

Lastly, the illustration is a disservice to both Sullivan and the Courier-Journal's Kentucky beat writer Kyle Tucker as well.

What Sullivan wrote was a fair examination of the topic. It didn't merit the inflammatory "It's whiny at the top, too" headline, nor did it require such a needlessly polarizing illustration. That headline and illustration will surely lead to backlash against Sullivan from Kentucky fans who see his byline and don't understand he was only responsible for the column itself.

@bluecat7plus1 I don't think illustration was consistent with what I wrote. May need to negotiate veto power.

— Tim Sullivan (@TimSullivan714) September 19, 2014

This dust-up also won't help Sullivan, Tucker or any other Courier-Journal staffers as they attempt to seek access or build trust with Kentucky players, coaches and administrators.

@tsnmike @KySportsRadio I don't even know what to say. I don't agree with that decision by us. I'll say that.

— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) September 19, 2014

We messed up with that illustration today, guys. I'm not happy about it. I know you aren't. We will do better.

— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) September 19, 2014

It's unclear how the illustration made it to print, but Tucker tweeted that the Courier-Journal's sports editor was as blindsided as he was. That means this was probably the decision of a designer or copy editor that doesn't understand the tenor of the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry and didn't think to run the illustration up the chain of command to see if it was printable.

It also could be a product of many newspaper chains going to a centralized copy desk outside their coverage area in order to save money. Someone who lives out of state may not have the same understanding of the rivalry dynamics as a copy editor or designer based in Louisville.

Regardless, there's no good excuse. There will be plenty of Louisville fans and Calipari haters who find the illustration funny, but it still was unfair and unwarranted.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: September 19, 2014, 3:59 pm

Not even a week after he was arrested for misdemeanor assault and barred from campus aside from class time, Texas guard Martez Walker did the one thing he could not afford to do if he has any hope of playing for the Longhorns this season.

He got into more trouble.

Walker was arrested for trespassing Monday after returning to the same dorm where he allegedly punched his girlfriend four times last week during a heated argument, the Austin American Statesman reported on Wednesday. Walker's girlfriend told police the initial argument last week began because he was upset that she went to a happy hour with a male colleague.

Texas coach Rick Barnes responded to Walker's initial arrest by suspending him indefinitely Friday, adding in a statement that the coaching staff has "consistently stressed to all of our student-athletes for a long time that any behavior in which women are not treated with respect will not be tolerated." The Longhorns have yet to comment since Walker's second arrest became public knowledge Wednesday morning.  

Though Walker averaged 4.7 points and 2.3 rebounds per game last season and closed the season by scoring in double figures in four of Texas' last five games, he certainly isn't irreplaceable for the Longhorns should they decide to dismiss him.

Texas returns all five starters and adds elite recruit Myles Turner, meaning there's a good chance Walker's role actually will diminish slightly this season even if he plays. One option for the Longhorns is inserting Turner into the lineup at power forward and sliding Jonathan Holmes to small forward, which would mean Walker, Demarcus Holland, Kendal Yancy, Demarcus Croaker and freshman Jordan Barnett all would be competing for playing time at wing off the bench. 

So Walker already was in for a fight to keep his spot in the Texas rotation as a sophomore. Now that he has been arrested twice in one week, his place on the team is all the more tenuous. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: September 17, 2014, 5:04 pm

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