So much for the idea that one-and-done players aren't interested in a college education. 

Former Kentucky forward Karl-Anthony Towns returned to his New Jersey high school over the weekend to sign autographs. He also spoke with reporters and revealed that while he is no longer enrolled in spring semester classes at Kentucky, he is determined to eventually earn his degree from the school. 

Towns said he has already enrolled in online classes for next fall and he intends to continue taking classes online even while playing in the NBA. Former Duke star Jabari Parker, a top pick last year, also vowed to earn his college degree while playing professional basketball. 

"I’ll be taking them with any NBA organization I will be with, I will be taking them online," Towns told NJ.com. "Let it be one class, two classes maybe three. Still gets me steps closer to having that degree in my hand.”

Towns is considered the likely No. 1 overall selection in next month's NBA draft after playing one year for coach John Calipari at Kentucky. 

Each year critics howl about a small handful of players who come out of high school to play only one year of college basketball before moving on to the NBA. Players do so because of an NBA rule that prevents them from joining the league straight out of high school. The critics complain that the one-and-done player makes a mockery of the idea of college basketball being both about the sport and education. 

The Pac-12 and Big Ten Conferences have proposed making freshmen ineligible in some sports, in part, to combat the one-and-done phenomenon. That short-sighted approach is unlikely to take hold

 

 

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: May 5, 2015, 2:34 am

No longer will Willie Cauley-Stein merely be known as the most versatile defender in this year's NBA draft.

Now the former Kentucky 7 footer also is receiving attention for an unusual name change.

Cauley-Stein has filed an order to legally change his middle name to "Trill," his mother told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday. Marlene Stein told the newspaper that her son's full name now is Willie "Trill" Cauley-Stein because "Trill" is the "nickname his 'boys' call him."

Cauley-Stein was actually born "Willie Durmond Cauley Jr." but his father fell out of his life when he was young. He has gone by Willie Cauley-Stein since enrolling at Kentucky in order to honor his mother, but he hadn't filled out the paperwork to legally change his name until now.

The name change is fitting for a player with a reputation for being a free spirit. Cauley-Stein still has room for growth offensively, but his ability to finish at the rim, attack the glass and defend multiple positions gives him a good chance to be a lottery pick next month.

The only downside to Cauley-Stein's new name is that he didn't go all the way with it. How great would it be to hear NBA commissioner Adam Silver introduce him as "Trill Cauley-Stein" when he gets drafted?

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: May 4, 2015, 10:39 pm

They've printed the phrase "Havoc Lives Here" everywhere at VCU the last five years, from billboards, to T-shirts, to giant banners in the student section.

The slogan still rings true even though the coach who coined it left for Texas a month ago.

Texas has withdrawn its attempt to federally register variations of the “Havoc” trademark, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Monday. The same day Smart was hired as the next coach of the Longhorns last month, Texas officials applied to register the marks “HORNS HAVOC” and “HOUSE OF HAVOC” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Retaining the "Havoc" slogan is momentous for VCU because it is central to the program's marketing and branding efforts.

The Rams' style of play has been known as "Havoc" since Smart used the phrase while describing his vision for the aggressive, swarming full-court press he intended to install. That slogan gained greater significance as VCU rose to national prominence, making a stunning Final Four run in 2011 and advancing to four more NCAA tournaments the past four years.

VCU has already trademarked "Havoc" with the State Corporation Commission of Virginia, which would have given the Rams a good chance to win a legal battle had Texas opted to go that route. The strongest argument the Longhorns could have made was that their variations on "Havoc" were sufficiently different not to be confusing.   

It's especially important to VCU to still be known as the home of "Havoc" because the coach hired by the Rams will continue to use that defensive model. Will Wade is a former assistant under Smart who had the wisdom to rename his style of play "Chaos" when he left to coach Tennessee-Chattanooga the previous two years.

Ultimately, it makes sense for Texas to back off not only because of the likelihood it would lose a legal battle but also because the Longhorns may not even adopt the "Havoc" model under Smart.

He has said Texas will play fast and aggressively, but he has also said he won't necessarily press from start to finish the way he often did at VCU.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: May 4, 2015, 7:21 pm

It's difficult for Tim Floyd to lure top-tier talent to UTEP, so the Miners coach took a risk others may not have to secure a former top 50 prospect.

He has signed former Oregon standout Dominic Artis just over a year after the standout point guard and two teammates were at the center of a sexual assault investigation.

Oregon dismissed Artis, fellow starter Damyean Dotson and Providence transfer Brandon Austin last year after a female student accused them of raping her the night of the Ducks' March 8 victory over third-ranked Arizona. Investigators concluded there was "no doubt the incidents occurred," but authorities declined to charge the three players, citing conflicting statements and actions by the alleged victim.

"We did extensive research on Dominic's history and character through people who have known him since he was a child, and throughout his high school and college career," Floyd said in a statement. "Based on our due diligence, meeting with Dominic and his parents, and the endorsement of Matt Willms who played with Dominic in prep school, we feel comfortable adding him to our team.

"I understand where some may be concerned. I have a daughter of my own. This was not a quick decision. A lot of research and conversation occurred before we chose to move forward. Dominic made a poor decision, and as a result has learned a tough life lesson. But I believe he is a good person and is worthy of a second chance."

UTEP's decision to take a chance on Artis underscores the risks some programs are willing to take to raise their stature in college basketball. The Miners have averaged 20.6 wins per season during Floyd's five-year tenure, but they have finished no higher than tied for second in Conference USA and they have neither made the NCAA tournament nor won a postseason game in the NIT or CBI.

What Artis will bring UTEP is a pure point guard the likes of which the Miners haven't had in a while.

The 6-foot-1 California native started 25 games as a freshman, averaging 8.5 points and 3.2 assists and helping propel the Ducks to a 28-win season and a Sweet 16 berth with his ability to create off the dribble and his fierce on-ball defense. He tailed off a bit as a sophomore as he lost his starting job while serving a nine-game suspension for selling school-provided shoes and never regained the consistency he showed during his freshman season. 

Nonetheless, Artis projects as an impact player in Conference USA if he can avoid further off-court trouble. His presence should allow rising sophomore combo guard Omega Harris to play off ball where he is most comfortable. Artis' ability to create for himself and others also will help the Miners find ways to score despite the early departure of leading scorer Vince Hunter to the NBA draft.

"I am grateful to Coach Floyd for giving me another opportunity, a second chance," Artis said in a statement. "I made a mistake and used poor judgment, but I have learned from this. I am excited about this opportunity at UTEP."

Artis is the second of the three Oregon players who have received a second chance. Houston coach Kelvin Sampson signed Dotson last month in hopes that the talented wing can help accelerate the Cougars' bid to become competitive in the American Athletic Conference.

Ultimately, how Floyd's gamble is regarded will come down to how Artis plays and how he behaves.

Artis is capable of becoming a standout point guard for UTEP, but another off-court misstep could bring a torrent of negative publicity for him and the school and raise questions regarding whether Floyd and his staff vetted the Oregon transfer's past sufficiently.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: May 4, 2015, 3:32 pm

The last time a point guard transferred from Washington to Gonzaga, Dan Dickau became the WCC player of the year and a first-team All-American. 

The Zags can only hope history repeats itself. 

Gonzaga landed another former Washington point guard Sunday when ex-Huskies star Nigel Williams-Goss committed to the Zags. Williams-Goss, one of the most coveted transfers on the market, will sit out next season and have two years of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2016-17 season.

The addition of Williams-Goss should help keep Gonzaga nationally relevant after next season when it will lose Przemek Karnowski and Kyle Wiltjer to graduation and could see NBA prospect Domantas Sabonis declare for the draft. Williams-Goss averaged 15.6 points and 5.9 assists as a sophomore at Washington and is a pass-first point guard who makes his teammates better.

Williams-Goss will join a backcourt that should also include former top 100 recruit Josh Perkins, but having two point guards on the floor shouldn't be an issue for the Zags. Gonzaga coach Mark Few has successfully played multiple point guards at the same time before and at 6-foot-3, Perkins and Williams-Goss are both big enough to defend opposing wings.

What made Gonzaga attractive to Williams-Goss besides its perennial success as a program was its ball screen-heavy offense and its recent history of developing players who have to sit out a year.

Two years ago, Kelly Olynyk emerged from a redshirt year with a stronger upper body and a revamped post-up game, enabling him to go from bench warmer to first-round draft pick the following year. Last year, Wiltjer showcased superior athleticism and a more well-rounded offensive game compared to his days as a pick-and-pop specialist at Kentucky. 

Williams-Goss' decision to opt to go that route was a mature one. He didn't feel he was improving rapidly enough at Washington and he wasn't projected as a first-round pick in the NBA draft, so he opted to remain patient and transfer even if it meant sitting out a year.

Of course, Williams-Goss' destination probably won't sit well with Gonzaga-hating Huskies fans, but they'll have a chance to express their displeasure in person. 

Gonzaga and Washington will end a 10-year non-conference scheduling hiatus during the 2016-17 season, which is the first year Williams-Goss will be eligible for the Zags. 

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: May 3, 2015, 7:20 pm

When sweet-shooting wing Kenny Williams committed to North Carolina on Saturday, it was a potential coup for the Tar Heels for two reasons.

It provides North Carolina a pure shooter who could crack the rotation as soon as next season if he spreads the floor with his 3-point prowess and proves to be a competent defender. It also prevents fellow ACC and national title contender Virginia from adding a recruit who could have addressed its biggest weakness.

Outside shooting is a concern for both the Tar Heels and Cavaliers entering a season in which both should begin in the top 10 in the polls.

North Carolina lacked any consistent shooters around Marcus Paige two years ago and still finished 256th in the nation in 3-pointers made last season despite the emergence of Justin Jackson and Nate Britt as threats from the perimeter. Virginia tailed off dramatically from behind the arc after Justin Anderson went down with a fractured pinkie in February and then the Cavaliers lost Anderson to the NBA draft last month. 

Given their need for a perimeter shooter, Williams was an appealing option for both the Tar Heels and Cavs after he asked to be released from his letter of intent at VCU last month when coach Shaka Smart left for Texas. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard is Rivals.com's No. 89 recruit in the class of 2015 and shot the ball so well for his AAU team that veteran coach Boo Williams said J.J. Redick is the only player he's coached with a better jumper.

Williams visited both Chapel Hill and Charlottesville before selecting North Carolina on Saturday, calling it his dream school. He'll battle the likes of Britt, Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II for playing time alongside Paige in the backcourt. Virginia meanwhile will have to hope that Marial Shayock develops enough to replicate some of Anderson's production at wing and Evan Nolte rediscovers the jump shot that abandoned him last season and emerges as a capable perimeter threat off the bench.   

A commitment from a borderline top 100 recruit isn't typically cause for wild celebration at North Carolina, but forgive the Tar Heels for feeling good about this one. The threat of potential looming sanctions from the school's academic fraud scandal has made North Carolina an easy target for negative recruiting and has prevented Roy Williams from landing the elite prospects he pursued for this class.

Nonetheless, North Carolina remains loaded for next season, and the addition of Williams only adds to that. He provides the outside shooting the Tar Heels need and prevents a rival from addressing a weakness.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: May 3, 2015, 2:38 pm

One of the schools on Jaylen Brown's list has been to the Final Four four of the past five seasons. Another played for the national championship two years ago. A third has captured the title twice in the past decade and could start next season atop the polls. 

Brown didn't select any of them late Friday night. To the surprise of fans from Kentucky, Michigan and North Carolina, the nation's best small forward prospect chose California instead.

The stunning commitment from Brown was a fitting way to end a high-drama recruitment that kept even the coaching staffs involved guessing until the very end. At different points over the past year, UCLA, Kentucky and Michigan were perceived as the favorites to land Rivals.com's No. 3 overall prospect. None of them got him in the end.    

Cal wasn't even perceived as a threat to land Brown until six weeks ago when he unexpectedly visted the Bears unofficially. Brown's relationship with head coach Cuonzo Martin and assistant Tracy Webster was undoubtedly a selling point, as was the fact the Bears could be every bit as good next season as all of the other marquee programs recruiting him.

Next season already had the chance to be Cal's most anticipated since the days of Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray when elite big man Ivan Rabb chose the Bears over Kentucky and Arizona and point guard Tyrone Wallace opted to return to school after flirting with declaring for the draft. Add Brown to that mix, and the Bears have a realistic chance to go from missing the NCAA tournament in Cuonzo Martin's debut season to cracking the preseason top 10 entering his second year.

Cal is loaded on the perimeter and light on frontcourt depth behind Rabb, so there's a good chance the 6-foot-7 Brown will see substantial playing time at power forward in a similar role to what Justise Winslow filled at Duke late last season. He has the size and muscle to defend opposing power forwards at one end and the quickness and strength to attack them off the dribble at the other.

The mismatches that would create make that potentially Brown's best position in college even if he projects as a small forward in the NBA. It would also allow Wallace, former McDonald's All-American wing Jabari Bird and high-scoring guard Jordan Mathews to join Brown in the starting lineup, ensuring Cal has its five best players on the floor at the start and end of games. 

That quintet is among the most talented starting fives in the nation. With Arizona replacing four starters and Utah trying to overcome the loss of do-it-all star Delon Wright, Cal should be considered no worse than the co-favorites to win the Pac-12 next season. 

Brown's decision to choose Cal was also noteworthy because it marked the fifth time this spring that an elite recruit has passed on an offer from Kentucky. The Wildcats have also lost out on coveted five-star prospects Malik Newman (Mississippi State), Brandon Ingram (Duke), Cheick Diallo (Kansas) and Stephen Zimmerman (UNLV), forcing them to scramble to fill out their roster with some second-tier options.

In this case, John Calipari's loss is Martin's gain. In a Cal-versus-Cal recruiting battle, Brown apparently preferred the school to the coach. 

Rivals.com video of Jaylen Brown:

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: May 2, 2015, 3:06 pm

The top unsigned prospect in the class of 2015 has narrowed his list of prospective schools to four.

Six-foot-7 forward Jaylen Brown, Rivals.com's No. 3 prospect, eliminated Kansas on Thursday, leaving only Cal, Kentucky, Michigan and North Carolina in contention.

Wherever Brown chooses, his decision will have a profound impact both on that school's prospects next season and on the national landscape. Here's a look at how Brown fits in at each of his four remaining schools and which one needs the Georgia native most:

CALIFORNIA

If Cuonzo Martin were to add Jaylen Brown to a recruiting class that already includes elite big man Ivan Rabb, then next season might be Cal's most anticipated since the days of Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray. The Bears conservatively would crack the top 15 in preseason polls thanks to the return of perimeter standouts Tyrone Wallace, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews and the arrival of Rabb, Brown and slashing wing Tyson Jolly.

Cal's connection to Brown is the friendship between him and Rabb and the relationship Martin and his staff have established during the past year. Is that enough for the Bears to win a head-to-head recruiting battle with some of the nation's elite programs? It's a long shot, but don't count Martin and his staff out because they've made it farther than anyone would have guessed already.

Cal is loaded on the perimeter and light in the frontcourt, so there's a good chance Brown would see substantial playing time at power forward in a similar role to what Justise Winslow filled at Duke late last season. The mismatches that would create make that potentially his best position in college even if he projects as a small forward in the NBA. 

KENTUCKY

Whereas Kentucky has won most of the recruiting battles it has entered the past few years, the Wildcats have endured some body blows this spring. They've lost out on coveted five-star prospects Malik Newman (Mississippi State), Brandon Ingram (Duke), Cheick Diallo (Kansas) and Stephen Zimmerman (UNLV), forcing them to scramble to fill out their roster with some second-tier options. 

Brown represents maybe Kentucky's final chance to add another elite recruit to their 2015 class, though Thon Maker remains a possibility too if he opts to play college basketball next season and is able to gain eligibility. Brown would likely play mostly small forward at Kentucky, adding size and strength to a perimeter corps that includes undersized point guard Tyler Ulis and 6-foot-3 combo guard Isaiah Briscoe. 

Add Brown to a roster that includes elite incoming freshmen Skal Labissiere and Briscoe and returners Ulis, Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee, and the Wildcats are a lock for the preseason top five and a contender for the No. 1 slot. Subtract Brown from that roster, and while nobody is crying for poor talent-starved Kentucky, the Wildcats would enter the new season with more questions than usual. 

MICHIGAN

One of the Big Ten's best collection of wings might evolve into the nation's best if Brown were to join the Wolverines. He'd be part of a group that includes projected 2016 first-round pick Caris LeVert, high-scoring Zak Irvin, rapidly blossoming Aubrey Dawkins and intriguing transfer Duncan Robinson.

Like at Cal, Brown would probably spend a lot of time as an undersized power forward were he to commit to Michigan. It's a position that would help mask Michigan's weakness in the frontcourt, get the Wolverines' best players onto the floor together and allow Brown to exploit mismatches.

It's difficult to get any semblance of a read on Brown's recruitment, but the consensus is the Wolverines are a very strong contender. They benefit from Brown having a lot of family in Michigan, from being the only Adidas-affiliated school he's still considering and from potentially jumping into the preseason top 10 if they were able to land him.

NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina is already a strong candidate to be preseason No. 1 thanks to the return of all but one key player from last year's 26-win Sweet 16 team. Add Jaylen Brown to a roster that already includes All-ACC guard Marcus Paige, potential breakout star Justin Jackson and standout big men Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks, and it would only cement the Tar Heels as the preseason favorite.

Though North Carolina is the closest remaining school to Brown's Georgia home, it doesn't appear proximity is a big factor considering he already lopped Georgia and Georgia Tech from the schools he is considering. The Tar Heels also would have to overcome the possibility that NCAA sanctions from their academic fraud scandal could jeopardize their ability to compete in the postseason next year, which has made them vulnerable to negative recruiting.

If Brown were to look past that the way fellow top 10 recruit Brandon Ingram could not, he'd fill the starting spot vacated by J.P. Tokoto's surprise decision to turn pro. Brown would likely play either wing spot for the Tar Heels and would add perimeter scoring and a defensive presence.

Rivals.com video of Jaylen Brown:

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: May 1, 2015, 3:35 pm

As Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley begins his search to find a replacement for Billy Donovan, this is the challenge he faces.

He must identify someone capable of proving that the school's recent emergence as a basketball juggernaut is a product of the caliber of its program and not merely the caliber of its former coach.

Though Florida made a surprise Sweet 16 appearance in 1987 under Norm Sloan and an unexpected Final Four run in 1994 under Lon Kruger, the Gators were hardly a perennial national power before Donovan. They had only made the NCAA tournament five times in program history until Donovan arrived 19 years ago and willed Florida to two national titles, four Final Fours and seven Elite Eight appearances.

What will aid Foley in his search is that he's pitching a top 20 college basketball job that should be attractive to plenty of potential candidates.

Florida has a big-budget athletic department that can afford to spare no expense on facilities, recruiting or salaries for assistant coaches. The school is also located in a state that is rich with talent, meaning the next coach can afford to build the program with mostly in-state prospects while venturing to Atlanta or elsewhere to win an occasional national recruiting battle.

The fact that Florida remains a football school despite Donovan's success is something most coaches will see as an advantage too. There will always be more pressure to win on the Gators football coach than his basketball counterpart even if Donovan has raised the bar to the point where merely making the NCAA tournament every year is no longer the benchmark for success.

Foley's history in coaching searches suggests he'll target an up-and-coming head coach from a program outside the power conferences. That's what he did when he plucked Donovan from Marshall in 1996, Urban Meyer from Utah in 2005 and current football coach Jim McElwain from Colorado State this year.

If Foley opts to go that route again, his first phone call should be to Archie Miller. 

The 36-year-old Dayton coach would be a home run hire because he possesses the pedigree, demeanor and skill as a recruiter and tactician to enjoy success at a name-brand program. He led the Flyers to the Elite Eight in 2014 and arguably did an even better job this past season when they won 27 games and reached the round of 32 despite only having six healthy scholarship players and none taller than 6-foot-6.

Miller could opt to stay at Dayton and wait for an even better power-conference job to open the next few years, so Foley either needs to make him a lucrative offer he can't refuse or identify some backup plans.

Two pie-in-the-sky options are Gregg Marshall and Bruce Pearl, but the Wichita State coach probably isn't leaving after signing an extension worth more than $3 million a year and the Auburn coach is only entering his second year with the Tigers and probably isn't ready to leave. The more realistic alternatives to Miller are guys like Xavier's Chris Mack, Minnesota's Richard Pitino, Murray State's Steve Prohm and Louisiana Tech's Michael White.

Of that group, Mack is probably the most accomplished and most attractive candidate. Pitino has coached under Donovan in the past and would certainly receive Donovan's endorsement, but his two years with the Gophers haven't proven he's ready for the Florida job. Prohm and White have enjoyed  success in smaller conferences, but it's a huge leap from where they are to one of the SEC's flagship programs.

Should Foley opt to go with an assistant, he could hire Anthony Grant or John Pelphrey from Donovan's staff, though both of their middling track records as head coaches could make that an unpopular decision with the Florida fan base. Foley could also try to lure Jeff Capel from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's staff if he's undeterred by the former Oklahoma coach's checkered history of NCAA violations.  

Whoever the new coach is won't step into an easy situation.

Donovan went an uncharacteristic 16-17 in his final season at Florida and leaves behind a roster riddled with question marks. Forward Dorian Finney-Smith and point guard Kasey Hill are the only two of the Gators' five leading scorers expected back next season, though a recruiting class featuring four Rivals 150 prospects should offer a boost.

Ultimately, this coaching search should offer a litmus test for what caliber of program Florida is and what caliber of program it wants to be.

A few years ago, Arizona appeared to be in jeopardy of slipping from among the nation's elite after Lute Olson's retirement until it hired Sean Miller and quickly reemerged as the West's premier program. Florida needs to find its Miller, a coach who can maintain what Donovan built and show Florida's recent success is sustainable. 

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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: April 30, 2015, 7:27 pm

The surest sign that the 2015-16 college basketball season will be wide open arrived this week when the gambling site Bovada released its championship odds.

Not one team has better than 10/1 odds to capture the title. 

Below is a look at Bovada's early favorites to win the national championship and some analysis from me on where there could be some value for gamblers:

TIER 1: FAVORITES

Duke (10/1), Kentucky (10/1), Michigan State (10/1), North Carolina (10/1)

Analysis: The four co-favorites are each name-brand programs, which suggests a couple of things. Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State and North Carolina will all be really good next season and more money will be wagered on them than some of the less well-known elite teams. Of this quartet, North Carolina is the safest bet to meet expectations since the Tar Heels return all but one key player from a Sweet 16 team. The others are more boom-or-bust as Duke will rebuild around the nation's most talented freshman class, Kentucky will lean heavily on returners Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress and Michigan State will blend a mix of promising transfers and freshmen with experienced veterans like Denzel Valentine. 

TIER 2: CONTENDERS

Maryland (14/1), Kansas (16/1), Iowa State (18/1), Virginia (18/1)

Analysis: If you're seeking value, this is a good spot to find it. All of these teams have rosters comparable or better to the teams above them even if none advanced beyond the NCAA tournament's opening weekend last month. The most appealing bet might be Kansas, which found the missing frontcourt piece it sought by landing elite recruit Cheick Diallo to protect the rim, rebound and run the floor. Maryland is also an intriguing option since the Terps have star power at four of five positions and are on the hunt to add a shooting guard via the transfer market. Rising sophomore Melo Trimble is one of the nation's elite scoring guards and Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter and coveted freshman Diamond Stone provide an interior presence.

TIER 3: DARK HORSES

Arizona (20/1), Gonzaga (20/1), Villanova (22/1), Indiana (25/1), Oklahoma (28/1), Louisville (33/1), Michigan (33/1), Wichita State 33/1

Analysis: Whereas the top eight teams have fewer questions than this group, there's still some potential title contenders here. Gonzaga will boast maybe the nation's best frontcourt, but the Zags will have to replace their entire starting perimeter corps from last season. Indiana returns each of its top perimeter scorers from last season and adds an interior presence in Thomas Bryant, but will that be enough to fix the Hoosiers' well-chronicled defensive woes? The best bet among this group may be Michigan simply because of the possibility the Wolverines add consensus top-five recruit Jaylen Brown. While Michigan's frontcourt still has question marks, the Wolverines would win a lot of games with a group of wings that would include Brown, Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Aubrey Dawkins.

TIER 4: LONG SHOTS

Notre Dame (40/1), Texas (40/1), Texas A&M (40/1), Utah (40/1), Wisconsin (40/1), California (50/1), Florida (50/1), LSU (50/1), Miami FL (50/1), Ohio State (50/1), SMU (50/1), Syracuse (50/1), UConn (50/1), Baylor (66/1), NC State (66/1), Butler (75/1), Dayton (75/1)

Analysis: I don't see the national champion emerging from this group, but there are some teams that are undervalued. Butler returns maybe its three best players from a team that was a basket away from the Sweet 16 last month. Syracuse is adding a heralded recruiting class to a roster that still includes perimeter standouts Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije. LSU boasts an experienced backcourt and elite recruits Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney, though the Tigers' history of underachievement raises question exactly how good they'll be. Cal could also make a big jump after adding Ivan Rabb to a roster that is loaded with perimeter talent.

TIER 5: SHOTS IN THE DARK

Cincinnati (100/1), Florida State (100/1), Georgetown (100/1), Providence (100/1), Purdue (100/1) San Diego State (100/1) UCLA (100/1), Vanderbilt (100/1), West Virginia (100/1), Oregon (150/1), Xavier (200/1)

Analysis: Of the teams with odds 100/1 or worse, I included the ones here that probably are better than their line would indicate. Cincinnati returns its entire rotation from a Round of 32 NCAA tournament team. The return of D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and a promising rising sophomore class has Georgetown appearing in most way-too-early top 25s for next season. Providence will have the nation's top point guard in Kris Dunn, San Diego State has Top 25 potential if Malik Pope blossoms as a sophomore and perpetually underrated Oregon is once again flying under the radar. Are any of these teams going to win a title next spring? Probably not. But there are worse ways to spend $10 than plunking it down on one of these long shots and rooting for them for them to pull a stunner. 

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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: April 30, 2015, 4:37 pm

Three months after he was dismissed from Duke and three weeks after he watched his former teammates celebrate winning a national championship without him, Rasheed Sulaimon finally broke his public silence.

The ex-Duke guard conducted an interview with ESPN.com on Wednesday in which he denied that he had committed sexual assault and insisted those allegations were not the primary reason coach Mike Krzyzewski booted him off the team in late January.

"I have never sexually assaulted, not only anyone on the Duke campus, but anyone period," Sulaimon told ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman. "It's not in my nature at all. I have great respect for the role of women in society. I would never demean or do anything to a woman in this manner. No, I've never done anything like this in my life."

Sulaimon's denial comes nearly two months after a Duke Chronicle report that the junior guard had been the subject of rape allegations prior to his dismissal. The newspaper reported two female students had accused Sulaimon of sexual assault during the 2013-14 school year, but neither formally reported the incidents to the police or Duke's Office of Student Conduct.

Sulaimon would not specify what specific incident led to his dismissal, but he intimated that most of the problems between he and Krzyzewski stemmed from his poor attitude over diminishing playing time during his sophomore and junior seasons.

Once seemingly headed for stardom after averaging 11.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game as a freshman, Sulaimon saw his importance diminish as talented wings like Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook eclipsed him in Duke's rotation. Krzyzewski even left the former McDonald's All-American on the bench for an entire game against Michigan during the 2013-14 season, cryptically telling reporters afterward, "He has to play better than the guys who played tonight."

"I'm a very competitive guy and I believe I should have been starting," Sulaimon told ESPN.com. "Quite simply, I just got frustrated. In retrospect, in looking back on it, I didn't handle it well at all. My immaturity and me being frustrated with hitting adversity, I think it greatly impacted my relationship with Coach K heavily."

Despite his diminishing production each season at Duke and the severity of the sexual assault allegations, Sulaimon will be a coveted player on the transfer market this spring. He remains enrolled in classes at Duke and is working toward graduating this summer, which would make him eligible to play his senior season right away at the school of his choice. 

Maryland was the first school to be linked to Sulaimon, a natural fit given the Terps' hole at shooting guard. The ESPN.com story indicated Sulaimon has received interest from more than a dozen other schools including Arizona State, Baylor, Colorado, George Washington, Houston, LSU, Memphis, Oklahoma State, Seton Hall, SMU, Texas, Texas Southern and Texas A&M.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 30, 2015, 12:50 am

Former Louisville point guard Chris Jones will not have to defend himself in court against rape and sodomy charges.

A grand jury decided Wednesday not to indict Jones and co-defendants Jalen D. Tilford and Tyvon Walker after hearing two days of testimony.

The charges stemmed from an incident that allegedly occurred at an off-campus apartment early on the morning of Feb. 22. Jones plead not guilty to the charges a few days later and his lawyers later predicted the evidence against him would be insufficient for the case to go to trial. 

"Police never should have charged Jones." Jones' attorney Scott C. Cox told WDRB in Louisville on Wednesday. "If he had been a regular person, no charges would have been filed."

The grand jury's ruling ends a tumultuous year for Jones in which he went from senior starter on a Final Four contender to basketball exile.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino dismissed Jones the day after the alleged incident when he learned the senior point guard had violated the curfew to which he'd agreed. Pitino had initially suspended Jones indefinitely the previous week when a female student accused the senior of sending her a threatening text message, but the Louisville coach permitted the senior to return to the team after surrendering his cell phone and agreeing to a curfew.

Jones was averaging 13.7 points per game and a team-high 3.6 assists at the time of his dismissal. He dropped out of school and moved off campus after charges were filed so he could focus all his attention on the case. 

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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: April 29, 2015, 6:47 pm

On the 74th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, one of the buildings that withstood the attack will host a special commemorative event.

Pearl Harbor's Bloch Arena will host a college basketball doubleheader that will pit likely preseason top 15 teams Oklahoma and Viilanova in the marquee game and Oregon and Navy in the nightcap.

"We are honored to play in this Pearl Harbor event and we will use this occasion to pay our respect to the fallen," Navy coach Ed DeChellis said in a release announcing the event. "It will be very special for Navy to play on the base on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack and we are looking forward to joining Oregon, Villanova and Oklahoma in a great field."

The Oklahoma-Villanova should attract plenty of attention since it figures to be one of next season's most anticipated non-conference games.

The Sooners return four starters from a 24-win Sweet 16 team including reigning Big 12 player of the year Buddy Hield and standout forward Ryan Spangler. The Wildcats return five of their top eight players from a 33-win team that won the Big East and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament but was upset in the round of 32.

Anticipation for the Oregon-Navy game won't be the same from a basketball standpoint, but the emotional element of that matchup should be memorable. It will surely be emotional for the Midshipmen to play at the same base at which about 2,400 people were killed, catapulting the United States into World War II.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 29, 2015, 5:44 pm

The missing element in Kansas' frontcourt this past season was a big man who could alter shots at one end and finish above the rim or in transition at the other. 

The Jayhawks may have filled that void Tuesday.

Cheick Diallo, MVP of the McDonald's All-American game and the Jordan Brand Classic, committed to Kansas, selecting the Jayhawks over a long list of schools including Kentucky, Iowa State and St. John's. The 6-foot-9 native of Mali is rated Rivals.com's No. 5 recruit in the class of 2015 even though he didn't begin playing basketball until four or five years ago.

Diallo is the perfect complement to rising senior Perry Ellis in the Kansas frontcourt because their strengths are so different.

Ellis atones for modest length and athleticism with a polished repertoire of back-to-the-basket moves and a mid-range jump shot consistent out to nearly the 3-point arc. Diallo isn't going to scare anyone if Kansas feeds him the ball in the high post or on the low block, but he runs the floor exceptionally, finishes at the rim, rebounds at both ends and uses his impressive timing and wingspan to protect the rim on defense.

The presence of Diallo and and Ellis eases the pressure on incoming freshman Carlton Bragg to make an immediate impact and enables Jamari Traylor to remain in a reserve role. Diallo's defensive presence should also give Kansas' guards the security to play the passing lanes and apply increased ball pressure without fear of surrendering an uncontested layup if they get beat.

Pair Kansas' suddenly deep frontcourt with its loaded backcourt, and the Jayhawks have the look of a potential preseason top five team. Frank Mason and Devonte Graham form a capable duo at point guard and Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk provide options for the Jayhawks at wing.

Kansas has made a habit of adding impact freshmen late in the spring the past few seasons, from Graham and Mykhailiuk last season, to Andrew Wiggins the previous year, to Ben McLemore a couple years before that.

Diallo is the latest one. And like his late-signing predecessors, he fills a major void.

Rivals video of Cheick Diallo:

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 28, 2015, 11:40 pm

Another option has emerged for programs in pursuit of an impact transfer guard this spring.

Seton Hall's leading scorer Sterling Gibbs reportedly is leaving the Pirates and should be eligible right away at the school of his choice after his graduation this spring.

The list of marquee suitors should be long for Gibbs, a deadly spot-up shooter with the ability to create for himself off the dribble as well. The 6-foot-2 combo guard averaged 16.3 points and 3.8 assists per game as a junior and shot 43.6 percent from behind the arc, briefly leading Seton Hall into contention for an NCAA bid before injuries and chemistry issues sent the Pirates into a February tailspin.

Ohio State and UConn are potential destinations for Gibbs, the Asbury Park Press reported. It's unclear who else will express interest, but Gonzaga, Maryland and Marquette have been among the name-brand programs in the market for a transfer guard this spring.

Gibbs' decision to transfer is only surprising because he told ZagsBlog.com and SNY.TV  he was "definitely coming back" after the Pirates' 78-56 loss to Marquette in the first round of the Big East Tournament. The in-fighting in the Seton Hall locker room and the chance to play for a winner right away surely contributed to his change of heart a month later.

There have been several reports of friction between Seton Hall's upperclassmen and its heralded freshman class over playing time and shot selection. Frustration boiled over when senior Brandon Mobley described Seton Hall as 13 individuals rather than a united team and when Gibbs and freshman Isaiah Whitehead had to be separated by an assistant coach during a timeout late in a February loss to Georgetown.

Gibbs’ close friend Jaren Sina announced his intent to transfer the next day. Gibbs chose to endure the rest of the season, but now he too is leaving.

The departure of Gibbs leaves a huge hole in Seton Hall's lineup and diminishes the chances of the Pirates achieving the breakthrough season coach Kevin Willard may need to quiet his critics. Whitehead and Khadeen Carrington are now Seton Hall's best options at point guard and both are certainly more renowned for their scoring than distributing.

Seton Hall's loss will be someone else's gain. Between Gibbs' productivity and the number of programs in the market for immediate help, his options should be limitless.

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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: April 28, 2015, 8:14 pm

Even though Maryland fell short in its pursuit of coveted former Drexel star Damion Lee earlier this month, the Terrapins still haven't given up on landing a transfer guard this spring.

They're reportedly one of 10-15 schools in pursuit of former Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon.

Already lots of love for Maryland in pre-preseason hoops, also hearing College Park could be a possible landing spot for Rasheed Sulaimon

— Joe Giglio (@jwgiglio) April 28, 2015

Can confirm earlier reports from a source that Maryland is one of the schools recruiting former Duke player Rasheed Sulaimon.

— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) April 28, 2015

Maryland's interest in Sulaimon is a risk considering the circumstances preceding his January dismissal at Duke. The Duke Chronicle reported in March that two female students had accused Sulaimon of sexual assault during the 2013-14 school year, but neither formally reported the incidents to the police or Duke's Office of Student Conduct.

It's unclear how big a role those incidents played in Sulaimon's dismissal because Mike Krzyzewski has said only that the junior guard had been "unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program." Sulaimon is the first player coach Krzyzewski has dismissed from the program during his tenure at Duke.

Maryland's potential willingness to gamble on Sulaimon could reflect that the Terps believe they're one piece away from title contention.

They have an elite point guard in rising sophomore Melo Trimble, a skilled combo forward in NBA prospect Jake Layman and a pair of good big men in coveted freshman Diamond Stone and Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter. The only potential hole is at shooting guard, where the Terps will count on reserves Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens to replace Dez Wells unless they can find help on the transfer market.

Sulaimon is a potential fit for Maryland both because of his talent and his history with Maryland coach Mark Turgeon.

When Turgeon coached at Texas A&M, he heavily recruited Sulaimon and was close to landing the Houston native until Duke swooped in. Sulaimon averaged 11.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game as a freshman at Duke, but the former McDonald's All-American's playing time and production diminished the following two years as other talented wings eclipsed him in Duke's rotation.

Sulaimon remained enrolled at classes at Duke after his dismissal from the basketball program and would potentially be eligible immediately at his transfer destination if he can graduate this summer. If not, he could either transfer and sit out a year or opt to begin his pro basketball career.

It's unclear who Maryland's competition to land Sulaimon will be, but the prior relationship between him and Turgeon isn't the Terrapins' only advantage. They also can point to the success Wells had at Maryland after leaving Xavier under similar circumstances as Sulaimon left Duke.

In the months following his dismissal at Duke, Sulaimon had to watch his former teammates play better in his absence and ultimately capture the national championship.

He has to be eager to get back on the floor, and Maryland certainly could be a logical landing spot.

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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: April 28, 2015, 6:55 pm

It might be as soon as next season that the Auburn basketball team is as fun to watch as the off-court antics of head coach Bruce Pearl, but right now Pearl still has a comfortable lead in the fun department. 

He added to his lengthy list of, um, awkward, but hilarious moments recently by participating in a lip syncing battle with Auburn women's soccer coach Karen Hoppa. Pearl donned a blonde wig and skipped around stage at one point doing his best version of Taylor Swift's hit "We're Never Getting Back Together." 

With a guitar dangling from her neck, Hoppa matched Pearl with the Bon Jovi hit "You Give Love A Bad Name" at the annual AUSPY's, the athletic department's awards night. 

Pearl returned to coaching last season after serving a three-year show-cause penalty for rules violations that cost him his job at Tennessee. His lip sync battle was not the first time the showman side of his personality has emerged at Auburn. He dressed up as Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn at the school's version of Midnight Madness in October, sank a trick shot in the school's arena and he surprised a marketing class at Auburn last fall, too. 

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: April 28, 2015, 6:47 pm

If a clear-headed look at next season's top teams is difficult the morning after the national title game, now is the time when the 2015-16 landscape gains some clarity.

The NBA's early-entry deadline passed Sunday night, meaning we know which players are entering the draft and which will return to school. Many of the key transfers and class of 2015 recruits have also revealed their destinations by now too.

With that in mind, here's an updated look at next season's top 20 teams. There's a change at No. 1 from the previous version and Cal and Georgetown have both entered the list.

1. North Carolina
Key losses:
F J.P. Tokoto
Key returners: G Marcus Paige, F Justin Jackson, F Kennedy Meeks, F Brice Johnson, G Nate Britt, C Joel James, G Joel Berry II, F Isaiah Hicks, G Theo Pinson, F Desmond Hubert
Notable newcomers: F Luke Maye
Outlook: Despite the surprise departure of ultra-athletic forward J.P. Tokoto, North Carolina has to feel very fortunate about how the draft declaration period turned out. Preseason All-American Marcus Paige, rapidly blossoming forward Justin Jackson and interior standouts Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks each never seriously considered turning pro, ensuring the Tar Heels will have enough returning talent to make a championship push for the first time since 2012. North Carolina will miss Tokoto's deft passes, high-flying transition dunks and solid perimeter defense, but the Tar Heels will be fine if one of their young players embraces an increased role. One option is starting either Nate Britt or Joel Berry II and allowing Paige to move off ball. Inserting wing Theo Pinson into the starting lineup is also a possibility. If the departure of Tokoto is one potential pitfall for North Carolina, the NCAA's investigation into their academic scandal is the other. North Carolina can only contend for a national title if they're eligible to play in next year's postseason, something which cannot be considered a certainty just yet.  

2. Maryland
Key losses:
G/F Dez Wells, F Evan Smotrycz, G Richaud Pack
Key returners: G Melo Trimble, F Jake Layman, G Dion Wliey, G/F Jared Nickens, F Damonte Dodd, F Michal Cekovsky
Notable newcomers: C Diamond Stone, F Robert Carter, G Jaylen Brantley
Outlook: The two things Maryland needed to make the jump from good to elite happened within days of one another in late March. Elite big man recruit Diamond Stone committed to the Terps and star lead guard Melo Trimble revealed he will return to school for his sophomore year, ensuring Maryland will have one of the nation’s best inside-outside duos. The graduation of Dez Wells is certainly a blow for Maryland, but the Terps have other complementary scorers capable of supporting Trimble and Stone. Power forward Robert Carter is a former top 100 recruit who anchored Georgia Tech’s frontcourt before transferring last spring. The presence of him and Stone would allow Jake Layman to transition back to his more natural wing position. And Nickens and Wiley should help absorb Wells' playing time and production unless Maryland adds a transfer. The Terps had to overachieve a bit and win more than their share of close games to give Mark Turgeon a breakthrough season this past year. If Stone is as good as advertised and Trimble and Layman continue to develop, the Terps could take another step forward next season.

3. Kentucky
Key losses:
F Karl-Anthony Towns, G Aaron Harrison, G Andrew Harrison, F Trey Lyles, G Devin Booker, C Dakari Johnson, C Willie Cauley-Stein
Key returners: G Tyler Ulis, F Alex Poythress, F Marcus Lee, G Dominique Hawkins, F Derek Willis
Notable newcomers: F Skal Labissiere, G Isaiah Briscoe, G Charles Matthews
Outlook: Though Kentucky lost seven players to the NBA draft from a team that won its first 38 games this past season, the Wildcats will still reload rather than rebuild. They'll build around three returning standouts and a recruiting class that could swell in size in the coming weeks. Rising sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis and incoming lead guard Isaiah Briscoe will likely share ball handling responsibilities and play alongside one another at times too. Skilled forward Skal Labissiere should be an impact addition, Marcus Lee could finally inherit a greater role in the frontcourt after riding the bench for two years, Alex Poythress will likely be a key frontcourt contributor too if he regains his explosiveness after knee surgery. How high Kentucky rises in the preseason poll could depend on what other prospects John Calipari is able to land this spring to bolster his roster. Elite wing Jaylen Brown, big man Cheick Diallo and forward Thon Maker are each still considering the Wildcats, but none are considered locks for Kentucky. Thus it's very possible Calipari may have to solidify his roster by tapping the transfer market.

4. Iowa State
Key losses:
F Dustin Hogue, G Bryce Dejean-Jones
Key returners: G Monte Morris, F Georges Niang, F Jameel McKay, G Abdel Nader, G Matt Thomas, G Naz Long
Notable newcomers: G Deonte Burton, G Hallice Cooke
Outlook: The one silver lining to Iowa State’s stunning opening-round NCAA tournament loss to 14th-seeded UAB is that it will surely drive the Cyclones this offseason. That gives the reigning Big 12 tournament champs a good chance to be even better next season when they return every rotation player besides shooting guard Bryce Dejean-Jones and forward Dustin Hogue. Offense will undoubtedly be Iowa State’s hallmark again with jet-quick point guard Monte Morris, potential preseason All-American forward Georges Niang and blossoming big man Jameel McKay spearheading a fast-paced, free-flowing attack. Returners Naz Long and Matt Thomas and transfer guards Hallice Cooke (Oregon State) and Deonte Burton (Marquette) will also bolster the perimeter offense. What the Cyclones must improve is their defense, which surrendered the most points per game and the third most points per possession in the Big 12. Scoring in the high 70s and low 80s was typically enough to overcome that this past season, but Iowa State often couldn’t string together enough stops to win games when their transition game got bogged down and their jump shots weren’t falling.

5. Kansas
Key losses:
F Kelly Oubre, F Cliff Alexander
Key returners: G Frank Mason, G Wayne Selden, F Perry Ellis, G Devonte Graham, F Jamari Traylor, F Landen Lucas, G Brannen Greene G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
Notable newcomers: F Carlton Bragg
Outlook: Thanks to the presence of point guards Frank Mason and Devonte Graham and wings Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kansas was always going to be pretty loaded on the perimeter next season. The return of Perry Ellis ensures the Jayhawks have a low-post scoring threat to pair with all that backcourt talent. Ellis averaged 13.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game last season, shot 45.7 percent from the floor and hit 39.1 percent of his 3-pointers. A sprained right knee suffered in Kansas' regular season finale against West Virginia limited his effectiveness in the postseason, contributing to the Jayhawks' early Big 12 tournament exit and round of 32 NCAA tournament loss to Wichita State. With Ellis back and top frontcourt recruit Carlton Bragg also joining the mix, Kansas should improve upon that NCAA tournament finish and battle with Iowa State and Oklahoma for a 12th straight Big 12 title. The Jayhawks' outlook would improve further if Bill Self is able to land one of the elite recruits he is pursuing this spring, but they're in good shape even if Jaylen Brown, Cheick Diallo and Thon Maker all decide to head elsewhere. 

6. Virginia
Key losses:
F Darion Atkins, G Justin Anderson
Key returners: G Malcolm Brogdon, F Anthony Gill, C Mike Tobey, G London Perrantes, G Marial Shayok, F Evan Nolte
Notable newcomers: F Jarred Reuter
Outlook: Virginia's hopes of emerging as the consensus preseason No. 1 team likely evaporated when wing Justin Anderson opted to turn pro instead of returning for his senior season. The Cavaliers saw firsthand his importance late this past season when his fractured pinkie derailed a promising season. With Anderson either not on the floor or not at full strength, Virginia's methodical yet highly efficient offense lacked enough outside shooters and became too reliant on Malcolm Brogdon to create off the dribble. They missed more shots and committed more turnovers, creating more transition opportunities for their opponents and reducing the effectiveness of their formidable defense. Virginia returns enough talent to again be an upper echelon ACC team next season, but they need other perimeter scorers to emerge if they're going to win a third straight league title and finally make that elusive deep NCAA tournament run. They'll also need to account for the loss of Darion Atkins, one of the ACC's elite positional defensive players.

7. Duke
Key losses:
G Quinn Cook, F Justise Winslow, C Jahlil Okafor, G Tyus Jones
Key returners: G Matt Jones, G Grayson Allen, F Amile Jefferson, C Marshall Plumlee
Notable newcomers: G Luke Kennard, F Chase Jeter, G Derryck Thornton, F Brandon Ingram
Outlook:
When Tyus Jones announced he will enter the draft earlier this month, it left reigning national champ Duke without a point guard on next season's roster. Six days later, the Blue Devils found a creative solution to that problem. Highly touted point guard Derryck Thornton committed to Duke last week and intends to reclassify from the high school junior class to the senior class. Thornton, who had been a consensus top 15 prospect in the Class of 2016, will join the Blue Devils in the fall and likely will be given every chance to replace Jones as the team's starting point guard. If Thornton can handle the point guard position, it will allow title game hero Grayson Allen to play mostly off ball and focus on scoring instead of distributing. Allen, returning starter Matt Jones and incoming freshman Luke Kennard would share minutes at wing. Elite 6-foot-8 wing Brandon Ingram can play either forward spot and will be joined by returners Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee in the frontcourt along with Rice transfer Sean Obi and highly touted freshman big man Chase Jeter. The Duke team that takes the floor in November will bear little resemblance to the one that cut down the nets in Indianapolis earlier this month, but the Blue Devils won't fall far. Assuming Thornton handles the transition to college, Allen and Jones mature into leaders and the freshmen make an impact, Duke can still contend for an ACC title and make another deep NCAA tournament run.

8. Michigan State
Key losses:
G Travis Trice, F Banden Dawson
Key returners: G/F Denzel Valentine, G LouRawls Nairn, G Javon Bess, F Marvin Clark Jr., C Matt Costello, C Gavin Schilling, G Bryn Forbes
Notable newcomers: G Eron Harris, F Caleb Swanigan, F Deyonta Davis, G Matt McQuaid, G Kyle Ahrens
Outlook: Even though Michigan State graduates stars Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, there’s reason to believe the Spartans could enjoy a better regular season next year than this past season’s surprise Final Four team did. The optimism stems from the debut of coveted West Virginia transfer Eron Harris, the return of last year’s top recruit Javon Bess and the arrival of a strong class. Harris, a slashing combo guard who averaged 17.2 points as a sophomore for the Mountaineers, should emerge as a perimeter scoring threat capable of easing the burden on returning standout Denzel Valentine. They’ll likely be joined in the starting lineup by pass-first point guard LouRawls “Tum Tum” Nairns, with Bess attacking the rim off the bench and incoming freshman Matt McQuaid providing outside shooting. Marvin Clark Jr. could be the heir apparent to Branden Dawson at power forward, while Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling both made strides last year at center. The Spartans will also welcome promising 6-foot-9 McDonald’s All-American Deyonta Davis and 6-foot-8 five-star recruit Caleb Swanigan.

9. Gonzaga
Key losses: G Kevin Pangos, G Gary Bell, G Byron Wesley, F Angel Nunez
Key returners: F Kyle Wiltjer, F Domantas Sabonis, C Przemek Karnowski, G Silas Melson, G Josh Perkins, G Kyle Dranginis, C Ryan Edwards, G Eric McClellan
Notable newcomers: None
Outlook: Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis all flirted with the idea of turning pro before opting to return to school, ensuring that one of this past season's best frontcourts will remain intact. Now the question for Gonzaga is whether last year’s reserve guards will be able to handle increased roles with four-year starters Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell graduating and fellow senior starter Byron Wesley gone too. Josh Perkins showed flashes of ability as a pass-first point guard before suffering a season-ending broken jaw in December. Sophomore Silas Melson, senior Kyle Dranginis and Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan will likely share playing time at wing. The Zags are also in search of a transfer who can bolster their perimeter corps. If the backcourt can simply knock down open shots and play solid defense, Gonzaga's frontcourt is formidable enough that the team will have a chance to approach or even exceed last year's 35-win Elite Eight campaign. Sabonis intrigued NBA scouts with his athleticism, Wiltjer is as skilled as any player his size in the nation and Karnowski is a mammoth center with a strong back-to-the-basket game.

10. Oklahoma
Key losses: F TaShawn Thomas, G Frank Booker
Key returners: F Ryan Spangler, G Isaiah Cousins, G Jordan Woodard, G Buddy Hield, F Khadeem Lattin
Notable newcomers: C Akolda Manyang, G Christian James, G Rashard Odomes
Outlook: The Sooners would have contended for an NCAA tournament bid had Buddy Hield turned pro, but they have a chance to accomplish something far more memorable now that the reigning Big 12 player of the year has announced he'll be back for his senior season. They will conservatively begin next season in the top 15 in the polls thanks to the return of four starters from last season's 24-win Sweet 16 team. They also figure to be squarely in the Big 12 title chase along with perennial favorite Kansas and potential preseason top 5 Iowa State. The catalyst for Oklahoma will be Hield, one of the highest-scoring guards in the Big 12 both of the past two seasons. The 6-foot-4 native of the Bahamas averaged 17.4 points and 5.4 rebounds as a junior, impressing NBA scouts enough that he had a chance to be a late first-round pick had he opted to enter the draft. The concern for Oklahoma is its depth and whether a replacement for forward TaShawn Thomas will emerge. Returner Khadeem Lattin and junior college transfer Akolda Manyang will need to step up alongside Ryan Spangler.

11. Villanova
Key losses: G Dylan Ennis, G Darrun Hilliard, F JayVaughn Pinkston
Key returners: G Ryan Arcidiacono, G Phil Booth, C Daniel Ochefu, G Josh Hart, F Kris Jenkins
Notable newcomers: G Jaylen Brunson, G Donte Divincenzo, F Tim Delaney
Outlook: Three starters depart from a 33-win team that crashed out of the NCAA tournament in the round of 32, but Villanova could still be the class of the Big East again next season. Point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and center Daniel Ochefu are both expected back and the Wildcats have some wings and forwards ready to assume greater roles to help replace Darrun Hilliard, Dylan Ennis and JayVaughn Pinkston. Six-foot-5 rising junior Josh Hart, who averaged an efficient 10.1 points per game off the bench last season, should take over for Hilliard as Villanova’s top scoring threat. Joining him in the starting lineup will likely be forward Kris Jenkins and promising rising sophomore guard Phil Booth. The X factor for Villanova will be how big an impact highly touted freshman point guard Jalen Brunson is ready to make. He’ll likely start the season coming off the bench behind Arcidiacono, but his polished offensive game may demand ample playing time if he can pick up Villanova’s defensive concepts quickly enough.

12. Arizona
Key losses:
G T.J. McConnell, G/F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, G Stanley Johnson, F Brandon Ashley
Key returners: C Kaleb Tarczewski, G Gabe York, C Dusan Ristic, G Elliott Pitts, G Parker Jackson-Cartwright
Notable newcomers: F Ryan Anderson, G Kadeem Allen, G Allonzo Trier, G Justin Simon, F Ray Smith, F Chance Comanche
Outlook: Arizona won’t duplicate this past season’s 34 wins after losing four starters to graduation or the NBA draft, but the Wildcats can still have a highly successful season if their returners mesh with their talented newcomers. They have four freshmen and three transfers who should each challenge for playing time and keep them in contention for another Pac-12 title and deep NCAA tournament run. Projecting Arizona's frontcourt rotation is easier than the backcourt because lone returning starter Kaleb Tarczewski will anchor the Wildcats in the paint. Rising sophomore Dusan Ristic and incoming freshman Chase Comanche will compete for playing time behind Tarczewski at center and skilled transfers Ryan Anderson (Boston College) and Mark Tollefsen (San Francisco) will share time at power forward. It gets more crowded at wing, where highly touted scoring guard Allonzo Trier, rangy forward Ray Smith and high-scoring redshirt Kadeem Allen should immediately push returning sharpshooters Gabe York and Elliott Pitts for playing time. Rising sophomore Parker Jackson-Cartwright should get the first crack at replacing T.J. McConnell at point guard, but freshman Justin Simon's size and defensive prowess should earn him immediate playing time. How high Arizona ascends will depend mostly on how fast the team can develop good chemistry and how quickly the freshmen acclimate to college basketball. The Wildcats may take some early lumps, but if they figure it out by March, watch out.

13. Wichita State
Key losses: G Tekele Cotton, F Darius Carter
Key returners: G Ron Baker, G Fred VanVleet, F Rashard Kelly, F Shaquille Morris, G/F Evan Wessel
Notable newcomers: G Conner Frankamp, F Markus McDuffie, G Landry Shamet, F Eric Hamilton, G Tyrone Taylor
Outlook: Not long after Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall agreed to lucrative contract extension, the Shockers received more good news. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, stars of Wichita State's 30-win Sweet 16 team, both decided to return for their senior seasons. Retaining one of the nation's premier backcourt duos solidifies the Shockers as a preseason top 15 team with a chance to be even better than they were last year if the supporting cast around VanVleet and Baker proves reliable. The other perimeter players who will be competing for minutes alongside VanVleet and Baker are sweet-shooting Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp, defensive stopper Zach Brown and Rivals top 100 freshman Landry Shamet. None of those guys are as versatile as Tekele Cotton, but all should contribute. Wichita State's backcourt has to be outstanding because the Shockers again have frontcourt questions. Undersized senior Evan Wessel will be pushed by several younger players at power forward. Rising sophomore Shaq Morris is probably the heir apparent to Darius Carter at center after making the Valley’s All-freshman team this past season, but he needs to improve his conditioning and strength to fully tap into his potential.

14. Indiana
Key losses: G Stanford Robinson, F Max Hoetzel
Key returners: G Yogi Ferrell, G James Blackmon, F Troy Williams, C Hanner Mosquera-Perea, G Nick Zeisloft, F Emmitt Holt
Notable newcomers: C Thomas Bryant, F Juwan Morgan, F Ogugua Anunoby
Outlook: The addition of five-star big man Thomas Bryant could go a long way to shoring up the frontcourt issues that plagued Indiana this past season. The 6-foot-10 McDonald's All-American chose the Hoosiers over Syracuse, Kentucky and Missouri, among others, giving Tom Crean the quality interior presence he lacked last season when he had no backup plan after Noah Vonleh turned pro. What Indiana needs most from Bryant is for him to defend opposing big men and contest shots at the rim. The Hoosiers surrendered the most points per possession of any Big Ten team this past season because their perimeter players couldn't stay in front of their men off the dribble and they lacked a true big man to erase mistakes at the rim. The presence of Bryant surely gave perimeter standouts Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon and Troy Williams more reason to return to school. All three looked into their draft stock before ultimately deciding to come back to Bloomington, ensuring Indiana will return its eight leading scorers and giving the Hoosiers hope of making a big jump after barely sneaking into the NCAA tournament this past season. They'll likely be viewed as a preseason top 20 team and a threat to challenge Maryland, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin in the Big Ten title race.

15. Georgetown
Key losses:
G Jabril Trawick, C Joshua Smith, F Mikael Hopkins, F Aaron Bowen
Key returners: F Isaac Copeland, F L.J. Peak, G Tre Campbell, F Paul White, G D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera
Notable newcomers: F Marcus Derrickson, C Jessie Govan, G Kaleb Johnson
Outlook: Expectations for Georgetown seesawed right along with D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera as the all-Big East guard initially announced he was declaring for the draft only to change his mind a few days later. That was probably a wise choice considering he's projected as a second-round pick at best and he has the chance to lead the Hoyas to a memorable season next winter. As a junior, Smith-Rivera tallied team highs of 16.3 points and 3.2 assists per game, leading Georgetown to a 22-win season and a victory over Eastern Washington in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. He'll be the centerpiece of a team that has several rising sophomores who could be ready to take a big jump. Promising forward Isaac Copeland is the most obvious breakout candidate, but fellow forwards Paul White and L.J. Peak and point guard Tre Campbell should all be better with a year under their belt. The Hoyas are also adding another strong recruiting class anchored by four-star center Jessie Govan, who could see immediate playing time as John Thompson III seeks a replacement for Joshua Smith. Ultimately, the range of possible outcomes for Georgetown is wide next season because so much depends on the development of their sophomore class, but the return of Smith-Rivera at least gives the Hoyas a senior leader. If Copeland enjoys a breakout season and Campbell, White and Peak make strides too, a Big East title is not out of the question. 

16. Butler
Key losses: G Alex Barlow, F Kameron Woods, G Jackson Aldridge
Key returners: G Kellen Dunham, F Roosevelt Jones, F Andrew Chrabascz, F Kelan Martin, F Tyler Wideman, F Austin Etherington
Notable newcomers: G Tyler Lewis, C Nate Fowler, G Sean McDermott
Outlook: Few Big East teams return a duo as talented or experienced as rising seniors Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones. Dunham averaged 16.5 points per game this past season and shot 41 percent from behind the arc as Butler won 23 games and nearly reached the Sweet 16. Jones averaged 12.7 points by aggressively attacking the rim in his return after missing the entire previous season due to injury. By the end of the season, forward Andrew Chrabascz had emerged as a capable third scoring threat, and he too is back. So is rising sophomore Kelan Martin, who flashed the potential to be a big-time scorer down the road. Butler will miss point guard Alex Barlow’s toughness and leadership and forward Kameron Woods’ defense and rebounding, but they’re pretty well-equipped to replace both. N.C. State transfer Tyler Lewis figures to inherit Barlow’s starting point guard job, while forward Tyler Wideman or incoming freshman Nate Fowler could take over for Woods. Butler will also benefit from having the same coach for back-to-back seasons for the first time in a while. In short, the Bulldogs have endured a couple years of instability and appear poised to challenge for the Big East title.

17. Michigan
Key losses: F Max Bielfeldt
Key returners:
G Caris LeVert, G Derrick Walton, G Zak Irvin, G Spike Albrecht, G Aubrey Dawkins, F Kameron Chatman, F Mark Donnal, F Ricky Doyle
Notable newcomers: F Moritz Wagner
Outlook: All signs had been pointing toward Caris LeVert forgoing his final year of eligibility and entering the draft until the projected mid-to-late first-round pick suffered a season-ending foot injury in January that complicated his decision. Suddenly, it was no longer such a sure thing LeVert would be selected in the first round even though the 6-foot-7 wing had led Michigan in scoring (14.9), rebounding (4.9) assists (3.7) and steals (1.7) prior to the injury. LeVert announced last week he will return for his senior season, a decision that solidifies the Wolverines as a preseason top 25 team and gives them hope of challenging Maryland, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Indiana for next year's Big Ten title. Michigan will be loaded on the perimeter with veterans Spike Albrecht and Derrick Walton Jr. splitting time at point guard and LeVert, Zak Irvin and a rapidly blossoming Aubrey Dawkins sharing minutes at wing. There's also still the chance Michigan adds elite wing Jaylen Brown to the mix if he selects the Wolverines later this spring. The frontcourt will be a bigger question, but there’s reason to be optimistic. Forward Kameron Chatman and big men Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle should all be much further along after a year of growing pains this past season. Michigan endured a frustrating, injury-plagued 2014-15 season that didn't seem all that promising even before LeVert's injury. Expect a bounce-back campaign from the Wolverines next season with all but one rotation player back.

18. Wisconsin
Key losses: G Josh Gassser, F Sam Dekker, C Frank Kaminsky, F Duje Dukan, G Traevon Jackson
Key returners:
F Nigel Hayes, G Bronson Koenig, G Zak Showalter, F Ethan Happ, F Vitto Brown, G Jordan Hill
Notable newcomers: G Brevin Pritzl, F Alex Illikainen, F Charlie Thomas, F Khalil Iverson
Outlook: One of the biggest reasons Wisconsin's title game loss has to sting so much is the Badgers aren't likely to get another championship shot anytime soon. They will lose five members of their seven-man rotation either to graduation or the NBA draft including national player of the year Frank Kaminsky, fellow projected first-round pick Sam Dekker and backcourt stalwarts Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson. The two marquee players expected to return are promising point guard Bronson Koenig and versatile forward Nigel Hayes, both of whom have all-Big Ten potential. The key to Wisconsin's season is both those guys making the leap from complementary pieces to stars and a supporting cast emerging around them. Joining Hayes in the frontcourt rotation will probably be returning forward Vitto Brown and 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman Ethan Happ, who looked like a future standout in practice last season. Who will play alongside Koenig at wing is a bigger question, but athletic guard Zak Showalter had some nice moments off the bench late in the season and redshirt freshman Jordan Hill and true freshmen Brevin Pritzl should also see playing time. Is that nucleus enough for Wisconsin to crack the top 20 nationally and finish in the top four in the Big Ten? Maybe, maybe not, but as long as Bo Ryan is still coaching the Badgers, it's probably not wise to bet against them. 

19. Cal
Key losses: F David Kravish, F Christian Behrens, F Dwight Tarwater
Key returners:
G Jabari Bird, G Jordan Mathews, G Tyrone Wallace, G Sam Singer, C Kameron Rooks, C Kingsley Okoroh, F Roger Moute a Bidias
Notable newcomers: F Ivan Rabb, F Stephen Domingo, F Davon Dillard
Outlook: Cal's hopes of ascending in the Pac-12 pecking order received a huge boost last week when point guard Tyrone Wallace revealed he will return for his senior season. Wallace had flirted with declaring for the NBA draft for most of the past month after averaging 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists in his first year playing point guard, but the long, athletic 6-foot-5 rising senior wisely decided to stay in school and work on cutting down his turnovers and improving his outside shot. The return of Wallace should land Cal a spot in the preseason top 25 next fall and give the Bears a chance to challenge Arizona, Utah, Oregon and UCLA for the Pac-12 title. Some of those teams may have more depth than Cal, but the Bears have as talented a nucleus as any of them. Cal's strength should be a backcourt that features Wallace, high-scoring Jordan Mathews and former elite recruit Jabari Bird. While last year's top big man David Kravish is graduating this spring, Cal could be in better shape in the frontcourt than it was last season when it lacked both a rim protector and capable backups. Five-star power forward Ivan Rabb promises to be an immediate starter and impact player and Kingsley Okoroh and Kameron Rooks should share time alongside him. Adding to the excitement for Cal is the possibility the Bears could add one more elite prospect. Wing Jaylen Brown, a consensus top-five recruit in next year's class, is considering the Bears and four other elite programs.

20. SMU
Key losses: F Yanick Moreira, F Cannen Cunningham, G Ryan Manuel
Key returners: G Nic Moore, F Markus Kennedy, F Ben Moore, G Sterling Brown
Notable newcomers: F Semi Ojeleye, G Sedrick Barefield, G Shake Milton
Outlook: Having narrowly missed the NCAA tournament last year and suffered a heartbreaking first-round upset this past March, SMU enters the offseason still hungry for postseason success. Next season could be the year it happens for the Mustangs thanks to an intriguing combination of proven returners and talented newcomers. SMU's best returning player is combo guard Nic Moore, a volume scorer who could move off ball next season to make room for top freshman Sedrick Barefield at point guard. Sterling Brown and Ben Moore are likely to begin the season in the lineup at the forward spots, but look for Moore to give way to Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye once the former top 100 recruit becomes eligible in mid-December. While Ojeleye couldn't crack Duke's rotation behind Justise Winslow and Amile Jefferson, he should be an impact player for SMU. The last remaining starter figures to be Markus Kennedy, assuming he doesn't run into academic issues again. He'll be SMU's top low-post threat. While it could take time for the new and returning talent to mesh, SMU could be at least as good as it was this past season when it won the league and earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament. It should be a duel between the Mustangs and Cincinnati for the American Athletic Conference crown, with UConn and Memphis also potentially entering the race.

Others worthy of consideration: Cincinnati, Utah, Baylor, Notre Dame, LSU, Louisville, Oregon, San Diego State, Dayton, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, VCU, Xavier, Florida State, NC 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!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 28, 2015, 1:20 pm

For a team that must replace 71.4 percent of its points, 58.6 percent of its rebounds and 76.7 percent of its assists, reigning national champion Duke will enter next season in remarkably good shape.

The Blue Devils have assembled a formidable recruiting class capable of filling many of the holes created by the departures of freshman stars Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. 

The latest addition came Monday when 6-foot-8 wing Brandon Ingram chose Duke over in-state rivals North Carolina and North Carolina State and national powers Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA. Ingram, Rivals.com's No. 4 prospect in the class of 2015, is the fourth Top 25 prospect the Blue Devils have landed as part of this year's recruiting haul.

Derryck Thornton solved Duke's point guard issues and became the heir apparent to Jones when he chose the Blue Devils last week and agreed to reclassify from the high school junior class to the senior class. Previously, Duke had signed elite big man Chase Jeter and sweet-shooting wing Luke Kennard. 

Whereas the addition of Thornton addressed Duke's greatest weakness, the arrival of Ingram will add to the Blue Devils' greatest strength. Ingram joins a stable of wings that includes returning starter Matt Jones, title game hero Grayson Allen and fellow incoming freshman Kennard.

The solution could be using Ingram at both forward spots the same way Duke used Winslow during the latter half of this past season. Ingram can create mismatches like Winslow even if he's taller and lankier but not as strong and defensive-minded as his predecessor.

If Thornton handles the transition to college basketball, Allen and Jones thrive with increased responsibility and the rest of the freshman class makes an immediate impact, Duke has a real chance to be the sport's first repeat champion since Florida in 2007. The Blue Devils will almost certainly start the new season in the top 10 in the polls and could even begin in the top 5.

When Duke won the national championship earlier this month, the Blue Devils relied most heavily on the nation's premier low-post scorer, a bruising, bullish wing and one of college basketball's steadiest pass-first point guards.

The Duke team that takes the floor next November will bear little resemblance to that one with one key exception: Both will be loaded with talented freshmen.

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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: April 27, 2015, 11:01 pm

The most inspirational player in college basketball will trade his jersey for a suit.

Two-time plane crash survivor Austin Hatch will end his playing career and accept a position as a student assistant, Michigan coach John Beilein announced Monday morning. The school has obtained permission from the NCAA to continue to pay for Hatch's education but not have his scholarship count against its limit.

"This is, and has been, a very difficult decision; one that we have been discussing with Austin over the last few months," Beilein said in a statement released by the school.

"Over the past year, we closely observed Austin's academic and athletic progress. In the end, Austin and our staff agree that the waiver is the proper next step. This change allows Austin to devote the necessary time he needs to be successful in his studies and obtain a Michigan degree. We also wanted to be sure we continued our commitment to Austin keeping his full scholarship in place for the next three years. This waiver allows for both."

That Hatch managed to play basketball at Michigan at all is remarkable considering everything he endured before arriving in Ann Arbor.

In 2003, he and his dad walked away from a 2003 plane crash that killed his mother, 11-year-old sister and 5-year-old brother, In 2011, Hatch experienced a sickening case of déjà vu. His dad was flying the family to its Michigan summer house in June 2011 when the small, single-engine plane plummeted nose-first into a garage along a residential street north of Charlevoix Municipal Airport, killing Hatch's father and stepmother and critically injuring him.

Hatch emerged from a medically induced coma eight weeks after the crash, but the recovery process has been long and arduous.

Physical therapy helped him regain his ability to walk, to catch and shoot a ball and eventually to play the sport he loves again, but the 6-foot-6 wing likely will never regain the athleticism and coordination he had when Michigan initially recruited him. Crossword puzzles and word searches helped Hatch regain the mental acuity needed to return to class, but staying focused in class and completing assignments are a greater challenge for him than they once were.

“As I have progressed through this first season, I know that I am not where I want to be, both academically and athletically," Hatch said in a school-released statement. "My priority is academics and I feel that it is in my best interest to devote more time to my studies. This decision honors my father, and it is something that I know he would agree with and be proud of me for making.”

Hatch's decision could be advantageous for Michigan from a basketball standpoint too because it frees up a second vacant scholarship. One of those is earmarked for German forward Moritz Wagner, who has committed to Michigan but has not formally signed. The other could go to five-star wing Jaylen Brown or fellow Rivals 150 prospect Kenny Williams should either commit to the Wolverines this spring.

Though Hatch won't become the basketball star he once appeared destined to be, he still produced some incredible moments in his lone season as a Michigan player.

He made his Michigan debut during a summer tour of Italy. He scored his first point in a November exhibition game. One month later, he got in the box score again in a game that counted, drawing a foul on a top of the key 3-pointer and draining 1 of 3 free throws, earning pats on the back and high fives from his teammates and a standing ovation from the Crisler Arena crowd.  

That will be the only point Hatch scores as a college basketball player, but he's apparently come to terms with that.

“Basketball has always been a huge part of my life, however, it is what I play, not who I am,” Hatch said. “It was a goal of mine to return to the game that I love so much and I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to play for Michigan. After all that I have been through, it was a dream come true for me to put on a Michigan jersey and get into a game at Crisler Center."

Video of Austin Hatch's emotional free throw against Coppin 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!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 27, 2015, 3:34 pm

The landscape for next year's college basketball season became a bit clearer Sunday night when the NBA's early-entry deadline passed.

Forty-five players have announced their intention to forgo their remaining college eligibility and declare for the draft. A handful of other top prospects have opted to delay NBA riches another year and return to school to try to improve their stock.

Here's a look at which programs were hardest hit and which will begin next season in better than expected shape:

FIVE BIGGEST WINNERS:

1. Maryland: Both freshman point guard Melo Trimble and junior forward Jake Layman probably would have been second-round selections had they entered the NBA draft. Their decision to return to school instead cements the Terrapins as a preseason top five team and one of the leading contenders to win the Big Ten next season. Maryland will have perhaps the Big Ten's best frontcourt next season with McDonald's All-American Diamond Stone at center, coveted Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter at power forward and Layman sliding down to his more natural small forward position. The Terps will miss the scoring, distributing and leadership of Dez Wells in the backcourt, but Trimble should be one of the nation's best scoring guards as a sophomore and Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens should absorb much of Wells' playing time.

2. Wichita State: Not long after Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall agreed to lucrative contract extension, the Shockers received more good news. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, stars of Wichita State's 30-win Sweet 16 team, both decided to return for their senior seasons. Retaining one of the nation's premier backcourt duos solidifies the Shockers as a preseason top 15 team with a chance to be even better than they were last year if the supporting cast around VanVleet and Baker proves reliable. The third perimeter player alongside VanVleet and Baker will likely either be defensive stopper Zach Brown or Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp, neither of whom are quite as versatile as graduating senior Tekele Cotton was. Undersized senior Evan Wessell will be pushed by several younger players at power forward and Shaq Morris is probably the heir apparent to Darius Carter at center.

3. Gonzaga: One of this past season's elite frontcourts will return intact next year. Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis all flirted with the idea of turning pro before opting to return to school, a decision that ensures Gonzaga will be in the preseason top 15 and gives the Zags hope of reaching their first Final Four. Even though Sabonis had a chance to be a first-round pick had he left Gonzaga after his freshman season, it was Wiltjer who most strongly considered declaring for the draft. The skilled 6-foot-9 forward already has spent four years in college and was coming off a season in which he averaged 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds, shot 46.6 percent from behind the arc and earned All-American consideration. Wiltjer ultimately announced he was returning to school last week because concerns about his poor defense made it possible he would not be drafted.

4. Providence: Had Kris Dunn chosen to declare for the NBA draft, Providence would have entered next season in rebuilding mode after losing its top four scorers from a 22-win NCAA tournament team. The Friars instead will retain their star point guard one more season, giving them a likely preseason All-American to build around and making them a threat to finish in the upper echelon of the Big East. Dunn's decision to return to school was among the most surprising of any player given his draft stock and his injury history (two previous right shoulder surgeries). He might have gone as high as the late lottery in this draft after a season in which he averaged 15.6 points, 7.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds. Dunn can solidify himself as a lottery pick next season if he cuts down his turnovers and improves his jump shot, but he also could hurt his stock if he plateaus or suffers an injury.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners would have contended for an NCAA tournament bid had Buddy Hield turned pro, but they have a chance to accomplish something far more memorable now that the reigning Big 12 player of the year has announced he'll be back for his senior season. They will likely begin next season in the top 10 in the polls thanks to the return of four starters from last season's 24-win Sweet 16 team. They also figure to be squarely in the Big 12 title chase along with perennial favorite Kansas and potential preseason top 5 Iowa State. The catalyst for Oklahoma will be Hield, one of the highest-scoring guards in the Big 12 both of the past two seasons. The 6-foot-4 native of the Bahamas averaged 17.4 points and 5.4 rebounds as a junior, impressing NBA scouts enough that he had a chance to be a late first-round pick had he opted to enter the draft.

Other winners: Utah (retained projected first-round pick Jakob Poeltl), Indiana (retained projected second-round pick Yogi Ferrell and potential early-entry candidates Troy Williams and James Blackmon), Michigan (retained potential late first-round pick Caris LeVert), Cal (retained potential early-entry candidate Tyrone Wallace), Notre Dame (retained potential early-entry candidates Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste), North Carolina (lost forward J.P. Tokoto to the draft but retained Justin Jackson, Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige and Kennedy Meeks), Georgetown (retained star guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera after he initially declared for the draft).

FIVE BIGGEST LOSERS:

1. UNLV: In Dave Rice's four-year tenure as UNLV coach, constant roster turnover has been a huge impediment. Seven of the Rebels' nine rotation players from their 2012-13 NCAA tournament team did not return the following year. Five of UNLV's top eight players from a disappointing 2013-14 team were not back last year. Now Rice will have to endure more of the same this offseason after leading scorers Rashad Vaughn and Christian Wood both entered the NBA draft. Vaughn, a freshman shooting guard, is a projected second-round pick, while Wood, a sophomore forward, has a chance to go late in the latter half of the first round if he impresses during pre-draft workouts. The timing of those departures could be especially damaging for Rice. He needs a bounce-back season after failing to reach the postseason both of the past two years.

2. Virginia: The costliest departure any team endured may have been Virginia losing possible late first-round pick Justin Anderson. The Cavaliers might have been the preseason No. 1 team in the nation next fall had Anderson returned to school, but they'll instead enter the season with some question marks after losing their second-leading scorer. Virginia was a fixture in the top five in the polls for most of this past season until Anderson suffered a fractured pinkie in February. The Cavaliers never really recovered from his absence because their methodical but efficient offense suddenly lacked enough perimeter shooters and became too reliant on Malcolm Brogdon to create off the dribble. Virginia missed more shots and committed more turnovers without Anderson, creating more transition opportunities for their opponents and reducing the effectiveness of their formidable defense. The fate of 2015-16 Virginia now depends on other perimeter scorers emerging in support of Brogdon to avoid a repeat of the final month of this past season.

3. NC State: All the elements were in place for a special 2015-16 campaign for NC State until its leading scorer made an unexpected decision. Trevor Lacey opted to forgo his final season with the Wolfpack and enter the NBA draft even though there is probably a better chance he goes unselected than that he is taken in the second round. The departure of Lacey will force returning starter Cat Barber and West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson to handle most of NC State's perimeter scoring. That duo and a solid frontcourt can take the Wolfpack back to the NCAA tournament, but a preseason top 20 ranking is probably no longer realistic, nor is contending for the ACC title. Lacey has received criticism for his decision, but he'll turn 24 in October, young by real-life standards but not for a basketball prospect. Another year in college would mean forfeiting another year of earning potential, something a lot tougher to do at 24 than at 19 or 20.

4. Florida: How many programs lose two players with eligibility remaining to the NBA draft after a sub-.500 season? How many programs lose two players with eligibility remaining to the NBA draft even though there's a good chance neither will be selected? Florida is the sole answer to both those questions after shooting guard Michael Frazier and forward Chris Walker both declared for the draft. The 6-foot-4 Frazier could get a look in the second round because of his outside shooting prowess. The 6-foot-10 Walker probably will garner a training camp invite on size and athleticism alone, but the former top 10 recruit is unlikely to be selected in the draft after a highly disappointing college career. Walker could not crack the starting lineup on a Florida team that desperately needed him to fulfill his potential this season, averaging only 4.7 points and 3.5 rebounds and often looking lost on defense.

5. Kentucky: Unlike last spring when a handful of Kentucky underclassmen unexpectedly returned to school, the Wildcats lost almost every top prospect they could have. Seven standouts from this past season's 38-1 team jointly turned pro: Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Andrew and Aaron Harrison and Dakari Johnson. The reason Kentucky isn't higher on this list is the same reason Duke and Arizona aren't either despite losing a trio of players apiece to the NBA draft. All three of these programs recruit at a level at which they expect to lose players early every offseason and all three of these programs are well-stocked for next season in spite of the departures. Kentucky will build around point guard Tyler Ulis, frontcourt standouts Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress and a recruiting class headlined by Rivals.com No. 1 prospect Skal Labissiere. The Wildcats would still like to add another impact player or two this spring, but they'll crack the preseason top 5 next fall regardless.

Other losers: Arkansas (lost projected first-round pick Bobby Portis and projected second-round pick Michael Qualls), LSU (lost potential first-round pick Jarell Martin and potential second-round pick Jordan Mickey), Murray State (lost potential first-round pick Cameron Payne), Syracuse (lost likely second-round pick Chris McCullough) Eastern Washington (lost likely second-round pick Tyler Harvey), UTEP (lost potential second-round pick Vince Hunter).

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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: April 27, 2015, 2:11 pm

Indiana dropped 10 of its final 15 games last season culminating with an opening-round NCAA tournament loss, but April has treated the Hoosiers far better than February or March did. 

Not only did they land a commitment from an elite big man who should help shore up their frontcourt woes, they also had each of their top three scorers decide to return to school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The final player to make his decision was point guard Yogi Ferrell, who postponed a planned announcement Saturday night out of respect for the family of the slain Indiana student whose body was found near campus the previous day. Ferrell will stay at Indiana for his senior season, CBSSports.com and other outlets reported Sunday morning.

Whereas forward Troy Williams and guard James Blackmon announced their intent to return earlier in April, Ferrell's decision dragged out until the deadline for underclassmen to decide whether to enter the draft. The 6-foot point guard averaged 16.3 points and 4.9 assists this past season and improved his 3-point shooting and assist-to-turnover ratio, but he still was unlikely to be selected any higher than the second round. 

Ferrell's return cements Indiana as a preseason top 20 team and a threat to challenge Maryland, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin in the Big Ten title race. This past season's eight leading scorers are each expected back, plus the Hoosiers add elite center prospect Thomas Bryant and get back redshirt sophomore forward Devin Davis.

What will ultimately determine how good Indiana can be is if Bryant provides the low-post scoring threat the Hoosiers lacked last season and helps improve a defense that was among the nation's worst.

Indiana surrendered the most points per possession of any Big Ten team this past season because its perimeter players couldn't stay in front of their men off the dribble and it lacked a true big man to erase mistakes at the rim. The 6-foot-10 Bryant is a McDonald's All-American with the skill to be a scoring threat at one end and the size, length and motor to contest shots and hit the glass at the other. 

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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: April 26, 2015, 3:18 pm

The steep decline of Chris Walker reached its nadir Friday afternoon.

It was then that the onetime top 10 recruit announced he's leaving Florida and declaring for the NBA draft despite having virtually no chance of being selected. 

In two tumultuous seasons at Florida, Walker delivered occasional flashes of athletic potential but never came close to blossoming into an impact player.

The 6-foot-10 forward didn't become eligible until early February as a freshman and played sparingly off the bench for a Final Four-bound Florida team, averaging 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds per game. He made little impact in the postseason for the senior-laden Gators, scoring only seven points and logging only 18 total minutes in five NCAA tournament games.

The Gators needed Walker to play a bigger role as a sophomore after losing their entire starting frontcourt, but he wasn't up to the task, He frequently looked lost defensively and was constantly a step slow on rotations, which was a major reason he logged only 14.6 minutes per game and averaged a modest 4.7 points and 3.5 rebounds. 

Such numbers represented growth for an average raw young big man, but expectations for Walker were far higher than that when he arrived in Gainesville. This was a kid who was a McDonald's All-American; who chose the Gators over national powers Kansas and Louisville; who was a projected lottery pick before he played his first college game.

Why was Walker such a disappointment? Florida coach Billy Donovan has blamed a combination of a suspect work ethic and overblown expectations.

The immensely gifted Walker dominated in high school because of his mix of explosiveness, athleticism and size. He never spent time developing a low-post or mid-range game because he never saw a need. He could block shots, run the floor and dunk with ease and too many people around him were telling him that was good enough. 

"My biggest challenge and issue with Chris is his consistent work ethic," Donovan told reporters in Gainesville in January. "That's big for him. When you're in high school like he was, sometimes you can dominate a game, block shots and use your athleticism because he's not going against anyone his size. Now at this level, he's going against more guys his size, a lot of guys who are physically stronger. He's having to figure things out.

"He has been really coachable. He's trying to get better. The only thing that is going to continue to hold him back is his work ethic, a consistent work ethic. He's had some days where he is good in that area, and he has had some days where he's been very poor. That's the thing he has to get better at. His work ethic today is better than when he first got here, but it still needs to get better."

Continuing to develop that work ethic under Donovan's tutelage was a potentially good situation for Walker, but the path he is taking now will be much tougher.

He's not listed among DraftExpress.com's top 100 prospects, which means he almost certainly won't be drafted and would be lucky to have the chance to play his way onto an NBA roster in training camp next fall. Instead he'll probably wind up toiling in anonymity in the D-League or overseas, both environments that require incredible self discipline for prospects to develop.  

There are few signs Walker has that level of discipline.

Though he handled his lack of playing time at Florida with more unselfishness and class than many in his shoes would have, it takes more than just a good attitude to make the jump from raw D-League big man to an NBA roster. He'll have to motivate himself to get in the gym and address his shortcomings while playing games in far-away outposts in front of crowds that often number in the hundreds, not the thousands.

If Walker can do that and develop some offensive skill and defensive awareness, perhaps he'll someday tap into the physical tools that once made him a top prospect. Otherwise, the sad tale of a once highly touted player is unlikely to have a happy ending. 

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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: April 24, 2015, 8:01 pm

Six months before he coaches his first game at Mississippi State, Ben Howland has already achieved a meaningful victory.

The first-year coach landed a commitment Friday from elite scoring guard Malik Newman, Rivals.com's No. 8 prospect in the class of 2015. The son of former Mississippi State forward Horatio Webster chose the Bulldogs over a long list of more high-profile programs including Kentucky, Kansas, LSU and North Carolina State.

That Howland was able to land Newman is especially impressive considering he took over at Mississippi State less than a month ago. The hire forced Newman to more strongly consider staying home as a result of Howland's history of success at UCLA and Pittsburgh and his track record of producing successful NBA players like Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison and Arron Afflalo.

The arrival of Newman gives Howland a real chance to contend for a postseason bid in his debut season in Starkville. Mississippi State returns five of its top six scorers from a 13-19 team that lost nine games by six or fewer points under former coach Rick Ray.

Newman and senior Craig Sword will form one of the SEC's better backcourt duos. Newman is renowned for his ability to create space for himself and score in bunches and Sword led the Bulldogs in scoring both of the past two seasons. Veterans Fred Thomas and I.J. Ready and Rivals 150 guard Quinndary Weatherspoon should also contribute on the perimeter.

Gavin Ware, Mississippi State's second-leading scorer and leading rebounder last season, should anchor the frontcourt. The 6-foot-9 rising senior will also be joined by incoming power forward Joe Strugg and rising sophomore Demetrius Houston.

While Newman isn't likely to stay at Mississippi State for more than one season, his presence for even just next year will help the Bulldogs. 

It's a credibility boost for the program and an opportunity for the Bulldogs to enjoy success in Howland's first season, which should only help him recruit for the all-important class of 2016.

Rivals.com video of Malik Newman:

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 24, 2015, 6:33 pm

How high expectations will be for Oklahoma next season always largely depended on whether Buddy Hield returned to school.

The Sooners still could have contended for an NCAA tournament bid had Hield turned pro, but they have a chance to accomplish something far more memorable now that the reigning Big 12 player of the year has announced he'll be back for his senior season.

Oklahoma will likely begin next season in the top 10 in the polls thanks to the return of four starters from last season's 24-win Sweet 16 team. The Sooners also figure to be squarely in the Big 12 title chase along with perennial favorite Kansas and potential preseason top 5 Iowa State.

The catalyst for Oklahoma will be Hield, one of the highest-scoring guards in the Big 12 both of the past two seasons. The 6-foot-4 native of the Bahamas averaged 17.4 points and 5.4 rebounds as a junior, impressing NBA scouts enough that he had a chance to be a late first-round pick had he opted to enter the draft.

Hield will be the centerpiece of an experienced backcourt that also includes returning starters Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins. The Sooners will have to replace graduating senior Tashawn Thomas in their frontcourt, but double-double threat Ryan Spangler returns and returning forward Khadeem Lattin has a chance to take a bigger role.

Bolstering Oklahoma's depth is a recruiting class that includes Rivals 150 guard Rashard Odomes, fellow guard Christian James and 7-foot junior college transfer Akolda Manyang. The Sooners will also have key reserve Dinjiyl Walker and Dante Buford, a four-star signee from 2013 who redshirted last season.

Last year's Sweet 16 appearance marked Oklahoma's deepest NCAA tournament run since Blake Griffin's final season in 2009. With as much talent as the Sooners return, they have a great chance to get even further next March.

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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: April 24, 2015, 4:56 pm

Cal's hopes of ascending in the Pac-12 pecking order received a huge boost Thursday when its best player announced he's staying in Berkeley.

Point guard Tyrone Wallace revealed he will return for his senior season after flirting with declaring for the NBA draft for most of the past month.

Wallace emerged as a potential second-round pick last season when he averaged 17.1, 7.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists in his first year playing point guard. Staying in school gives the long, athletic 6-foot-5 guard a chance to cut down his turnovers, improve his 31 percent 3-point shooting and fulfill a promise to his late grandfather to earn his diploma.

The return of Wallace could land Cal a spot in the preseason top 25 next fall and should give the Bears a chance to challenge Arizona, Utah, Oregon and UCLA for the Pac-12 title. Some of those teams may have more depth than Cal, but the Bears have as talented a nucleus as any of them.

Cal's strength should be a backcourt that features Wallace, high-scoring Jordan Mathews and former elite recruit Jabari Bird. Returner Sam Singer and 6-foot-7 Georgetown transfer Stephen Domingo should provide perimeter depth off the bench.

While last year's top big man David Kravish is graduating this spring, Cal could be in better shape in the frontcourt than it was last season when it lacked both a rim protector and capable backups. Five-star power forward Ivan Rabb promises to be an immediate starter and impact player and Kingsley Okoroh and Kameron Rooks should share time alongside him.

Adding to the excitement for Cal is the possibility the Bears could add one more elite prospect. Wing Jaylen Brown, a consensus top-five recruit in next year's class, is considering the Bears, Michigan, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA and others. 

While the Bears would gladly take a commitment from Brown, the reality is they're already in good shape for next season either way.

It was a mild disappointment when Cal missed the NCAA tournament last season after getting off to a 10-1 start. It would be a monumental disappointment next season if the Bears weren't part of March 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!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 23, 2015, 9:57 pm

The most prized graduate transfer on the market will join a program that desperately needs a scorer of his caliber.

Former Drexel wing Damion Lee announced Thursday that he has committed to Louisville, providing a jolt of offense to a Cardinals team trying to overcome the loss of 82 percent of its scoring from this past season's 27-win campaign. 

Lee received offers from the likes of Arizona, Gonzaga, Maryland and Marquette because he was one of the few transfers who were both immediately eligible and capable of making a real impact. The 6-foot-6 rising senior averaged 21.4 points per game for the Dragons this past season, fifth most of any Division I player in the nation. 

Louisville could promise Lee guaranteed playing time at wing after losing leading scorer Terry Rozier to the NBA draft, fellow starter Wayne Blackshear to graduation and backups Anton Gill and Shaqquan Aaron to transfers. Incoming combo guard Donovan Mitchell and wing Deng Adel will also surely contribute, but Lee's presence decreases the pressure on both of them to make an immediate impact.

Whereas Louisville looked more like a fringe NCAA tournament contender than a potential preseason top 25 team when the season ended, the addition of Lee and Cleveland State graduate transfer Trey Lewis elevates expectations for the Cardinals a bit.

Lewis is a knock-down shooter who can start alongside Quentin Snider or also handle the ball when the starting point guard comes out of the game. Lee, Mitchell and Adel give Louisville a talented group of wings. And while the Cardinals won't have a frontcourt player of Montrezl Harrell's caliber, Chinanu Onuaku and Mangok Mathiang made some strides last season and incoming freshman Ray Spalding should be a factor too.

All in all, it's a Louisville team that will surely take some time to mesh as everyone gets used to their roles, but it's also a roster that has potential too.

Given how bleak things looked for the Cardinals even a few weeks ago, that itself is worthy of celebration. 

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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: April 23, 2015, 3:48 pm

On the eve of his announcement whether he'd stay at UNLV or turn pro, forward Christian Wood tweeted a picture of himself and three of next year's Rebels with the caption, "Kinda a cool pic. What do yall think?"

UNLV fans thought it was an omen. Turned out it was Wood giving them false hope.

Wood announced through a video on his Twitter account Wednesday night that he'll skip his final two years of eligibility and declare for the NBA draft. The athletic 6-foot-11 sophomore is projected as a late first-round pick and could rise even higher if he impresses in pre-draft workouts.

A role player as a freshman, Wood enjoyed a breakout year this past season during an otherwise forgettable winter for the UNLV basketball program. He was second on the team in scoring at 15.7 points per game, averaged a team-best 10 rebounds per game and developed into a very capable rim protector on defense.

The departure of Wood dims some of the optimism UNLV generated last week when it landed a commitment from skilled 7-foot incoming freshman Stephen Zimmerman. Wood and Zimmerman could have emerged as one of the nation's elite frontcourt duos, but the Rebels instead will have to settle for pairing their prized freshman with Oregon transfer Ben Carter or returners Goodluck Okonoboh and Dwayne Morgan.

UNLV needs its frontcourt to be special because its backcourt lacks elite talent or outside shooting in the wake of leading scorer Rashad Vaughn's decision to enter the draft.

Six-foot-6 combo guard Patrick McKaw will almost certainly be one of the starters after displaying great promise during the second half of his freshman season. Incoming freshmen Jones and Jaylen Poyser, Rutgers transfer Jerome Seagears and returners Jordan Cornish and Daquan Cook all figure to compete for playing time as well.

Coaxing a bounce-back season out of that group will be critical for UNLV coach Dave Rice because his job could very well depend on it.

In Rice's four-year tenure at UNLV, he has stockpiled more talent than any Rebels coach since the program's golden era under Jerry Tarkanian, but all that talent hasn't translated into a return to the glory days just yet. UNLV has yet to finish higher than third in the Mountain West under Rice, nor has it won an NCAA tournament game, falling in the opening round in both 2012 and 2013 before missing the postseason altogether the past two years.

Rice's challenge will be getting the Rebels back to the NCAA tournament next season, a goal Wood's presence would have surely helped him attain.

Instead UNLV will have to overcome the loss of three starters including far and away its two most productive players.

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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: April 23, 2015, 2:55 pm

Hoping to douse the speculation over whether he'll leave for an NBA job this spring, UConn coach Kevin Ollie released a carefully worded statement Wednesday reaffirming his commitment to the Huskies.

Ollie insisted he will not pursue another job this spring but stopped well short of guaranteeing he'd be at UConn next season.

"As I have said many times, I am proud and honored to be the head basketball coach at the University of Connecticut and I have no plans to pursue other opportunities," Ollie said. "We are already excited about next season and I am looking forward to preparing our team to be the best we can be on the court, in the classroom, and in our community."

Ollie's statement came only hours before Oklahoma City formally parted ways with Scott Brooks. My Yahoo Sports colleague Adrian Wojnarowski wrote last week that the Thunder were still evaluating Brooks and that Ollie and Florida coach Billy Donovan were both potential candidates should the job open.

Ollie is potentially a good fit for Oklahoma City because of the respect he earned during his brief stint there as a player at the end of his career. Thunder general manager Sam Presti acquired Ollie in 2009 in hopes that the hard-working 36-year-old journeyman guard would serve as a mentor for young stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Presti told Yahoo Sports in 2012 that he was so impressed by Ollie's approach to the game at the end of the 2009-10 season that he took the veteran to lunch to discuss his post-basketball goals. What Presti learned was Ollie had interest in a coaching or front office position with the Thunder but his first choice was to return to his alma mater and coach under Jim Calhoun.

Ollie could have to make a similar decision again this spring if Presti decides to make him an offer — and his statement Wednesday leaves him plenty of wiggle room to go in whichever direction he chooses.

In reality, Wednesday's statement was likely aimed at opposing coaches who will use the interest Ollie has received from NBA teams as a way to negatively recruit against the Huskies. This statement is Ollie's way of speaking directly to recruits and telling them he intends to remain at UConn even if he still leaves himself an out should the job of his dreams come along.

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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: April 22, 2015, 3:56 pm

The last time Maryland and Georgetown scheduled a regular season game against one-another, a handful of current players on both teams weren't even born yet.

The 21-year wait will finally end next season.

CSNWashington.com reported Tuesday that the Terps and Hoyas will finally meet in College Park as part of the inaugural Gavitt Tip-Off Games pitting teams from the Big East against teams from the Big Ten. Maryland and Georgetown will play a return game at the Verizon Center during the 2016-17 season.

While it's ridiculous that the two regional rivals have played so infrequently, the timing of the renewal of the series is at least ideal.

Maryland will likely begin next season in the top five in the polls as a result of the return of standouts Melo Trimble and Jake Layman and the arrival of transfer Robert Carter and top recruit Diamond Stone. It wouldn't be a surprise if Georgetown joins the Terps in the preseason rankings thanks to the return of star D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and the potential development of young standouts L.J. Peak and Isaac Copeland.  

Petty differences are the main reason the teams haven't scheduled a regular season game since Maryland's epic 84-83 upset victory in 1993 capped by guard Duane Simpkins' game-winning shot late in overtime. Maryland argued the next game in the series should be in College Park, while Georgetown viewed that 1993 game to be a neutral-court matchup even though it was played at the Verizon Center.

The two schools have only faced each other a couple times in tournament play since that 1993 game. The Terps beat Georgetown in the 2001 Sweet 16 and the Hoyas got some revenge by throttling Maryland in a 2008 game.

Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson raised hopes the series would restart in 2011 when he told the Washington Times he was in "serious conversation" with Georgetown about renewing the series, but the optimism didn't last long.

First Georgetown athletic director Lou Reed warned the Washington Post negotiations were "far too preliminary" for fans to get excited. Then former Hoyas coach John Thompson Jr. lashed out at Anderson for publicizing the negotiations, telling ESPN 980 that "the AD at Maryland is not the person that schedules for Georgetown" and that "you don't negotiate through the damn newspaper."

Perhaps that's the reason Tuesday's news broke via sourced reports rather than via an announcement. Both sides are keeping things hush-hush until all the details have been agreed upon.

A poll on the Georgetown-themed Casual Hoya site asked readers how they felt about Georgetown and Maryland meeting next season. The results perfectly summed up how cool it is for both fan bases and how ridiculous it is that it took this long to make something so obvious happen.

As of Tuesday evening, 318 readers answered, "Exciting!" Only 18 said, "Meh."

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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: April 21, 2015, 10:23 pm

When Tyus Jones announced he will enter the draft last week, it left reigning national champ Duke without a point guard on next season's roster.

Six days later, the Blue Devils found a creative solution to that problem.

Highly touted point guard Derryck Thornton committed to Duke on Tuesday and intends to reclassify from the high school junior class to the senior class, Rivals.com and other media outlets reported. Thornton, who had been a consensus top 15 prospect in the Class of 2016, will join the Blue Devils in the fall and likely will be given every chance to replace Jones as the team's starting point guard. 

Whereas Jones arrived at Duke as a polished decision maker who could shoot from the perimeter or create for himself or his teammates off the dribble, Thornton is a different type of point guard. The 6-foot-1 Chatsworth, Calif. native might be a bit more erratic with the ball in his hands than Jones was as a freshman, but he also should be a better on-ball defender.

Landing Thornton and persuading him to reclassify became Duke's top priority once Jones declared for the draft. Assistant coach Jon Scheyer had been the point person in Thornton's recruitment, but head coach Mike Krzyzewski and associate head coach Jeff Capel accompanied Scheyer on an in-home visit to make Duke's pitch Monday night.

If Thornton can handle the point guard position, it will allow title game hero Grayson Allen to play mostly off ball and focus on scoring instead of distributing. Allen, returning starter Matt Jones and incoming freshman Luke Kennard would share minutes at wing, with returners Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee splitting time with Rice transfer Sean Obi and highly touted freshman Chase Jeter in the frontcourt.

The presence of Thornton could also help Duke in its pursuit of another top prospect. Six-foot-8 small forward Brandon Ingram, a friend of Thornton's, is deciding among Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA and NC State.

As big an impact as Ingram could make next season, he still isn't as important to Duke's hopes next year as Thornton may be.

Without Thornton, Duke had a huge hole at point guard. With him, the Blue Devils have a promising young prospect capable of filling it.

Rivals video of Derryck Thornton:

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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: April 21, 2015, 6:04 pm

As Michigan fans awaited Caris LeVert's decision whether to enter the NBA draft or not, assistant coach Bacari Alexander offered a subtle hint which way the standout guard was leaning.

On Tuesday morning, Alexander tweeted a picture with the Michigan logo and the phrase "THOSE WHO STAY," a reference to the famous Bo Schembechler quote, "Those who stay will be champions."

Hours later, Michigan confirmed Alexander's tweet. The school announced Tuesday that LeVert will return for his senior season, a decision that solidifies the Wolverines as a preseason top 25 team and gives them hope of challenging Maryland, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Indiana for next year's Big Ten title.

All signs had been pointing toward LeVert forgoing his final year of eligibility and entering the draft until the projected mid-to-late first-round pick suffered a January foot injury that cost him the rest of this past season and complicated his decision. Suddenly, it was no longer such a sure thing LeVert would be selected in the first round even though the 6-foot-7 wing had led Michigan in scoring (14.9), rebounding (4.9) assists (3.7) and steals (1.7) prior to the injury

"Coming back allows me to keep working towards my Michigan degree and take the next steps in my development as a player, teammate and a leader of our program," LeVert said in a statement. "Michigan is a very special place and the college experience only comes once. The future is bright and I am blessed to be part of it."

Though Michigan missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in five years, the Wolverines appear poised for a bounce-back campaign. They'll be loaded on the perimeter with veterans Spike Albrecht and Derrick Walton Jr. splitting time at point guard and LeVert, Zak Irvin and a rapidly blossoming Aubrey Dawkins sharing minutes at wing.

The frontcourt will be a bigger question, but there’s reason to be optimistic. Forward Kameron Chatman and big men Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle should all be much further along after a year of growing pains this past season.

The return of LeVert strengthens a Big Ten conference that should be among the nation's best next year.

The addition of elite recruit Diamond Stone and the return of Melo Trimble and Jake Layman gives Maryland legitimate Final Four aspirations even if the Terps don't add a transfer this offseason. Michigan State returns some key pieces from a Final Four team and adds high-scoring West Virginia transfer Eron Harris and an elite freshman class. Indiana will be a contender if Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon return to school and Wisconsin will probably find a way to finish in the top four because Wisconsin always finds a way to finish in the top four.

Nonetheless, with LeVert headlining the league's deepest perimeter corps, Michigan should be back in the mix after a year's hiatus.

"We love coaching Caris and are excited he has decided to come back for his final season," John Beilein said in a statement. "His injury last season was unfortunate, but he never wavered in his commitment as a leader, a student or with his rehabilitation. Caris is a special person both on and off the court and we are proud of what he has accomplished. The best is yet to come for a young man like Caris LeVert." 

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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: April 21, 2015, 4:01 pm

Whether it's taking batting practice at the baseball diamond, rowing with the crew team or playing flag football on the practice field, the Baylor basketball team has spent the first couple weeks of the offseason dabbling with other sports.

The Bears joined the gymnastics team at a trampoline park Monday, the perfect setting for them to bring along a Fisher Price basketball hoop and have a little fun.

It was 6-foot-8, 280-pound Rico Gathers who delivered the most impressive dunk, a flying one-handed dunk preceded by bounces on three different trampolines. The agility Gathers displayed at his size was a reminder why many think he has the athleticism to switch to football if pro basketball doesn't work out for him.

Getting some work done with gymnastics today. Here's Rico showing off his agility. #SicEm pic.twitter.com/XiXVorAtwD

— Baylor Basketball (@BaylorMBB) April 20, 2015

A close second for dunk of the day? This slam ball-esque alley-oop slam from Royce O'Neal to Taurean Prince.

Royce to TP for the oop. #SicEm pic.twitter.com/jY4pLiOfhl

— Baylor Basketball (@BaylorMBB) April 20, 2015

Of course, not all Baylor's trampoline dunks were successful. This Gathers outtake belongs on the blooper reel.

Outtakes: a failed #RicoSmash. #SicEm pic.twitter.com/3PpBBBfexX

— Baylor Basketball (@BaylorMBB) April 20, 2015

Fun stuff, Baylor. Here's hoping the Bears join the equestrian team for a practice session next. The world needs to see Gathers jump a gate riding a horse.

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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: April 21, 2015, 2:12 pm

One of this past season's elite frontcourts will return intact next year.

Kyle Wiltjer made that certain Monday when he joined fellow Gonzaga big men Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis in deciding to remain in school.

Whereas Sabonis revealed his decision soon after Gonzaga's Elite Eight loss to Duke and Karnowski made his plans known last week, Wiltjer's process dragged out the longest most likely because of his age. The skilled 6-foot-9 forward already has spent two years at Kentucky and two at Gonzaga and will turn 23 years old before the start of next season, young by real-life standards but not for a NBA prospect.

What surely kept Wiltjer from making the leap is the uncertainty over whether he would have been drafted. Concerns about whether he has the strength, quickness or athleticism to guard either NBA small forwards or power forwards have diminished his NBA stock despite his multifaceted offensive game.

Wiltjer made tremendous strides on offense while sitting out a year after transferring from Kentucky, working with the training staff at Gonzaga to remodel his body and reinvent his game.

No longer was he content to float to the perimeter and shoot a steady diet of catch-and-shoot threes. He became tougher to guard because he learned to exploit mismatches, backing down smaller defenders in the low post or forcing lumbering opposing big men to try to stay with him on the perimeter.

The result was a brilliant junior season in which Wiltjer averaged 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds, shot 46.6 percent from behind the arc and earned second-team All-American honors. His versatile game meshed perfectly with Karnowski and Sabonis, the former a massive back-to-the-basket scorer and the latter an athletic forward comfortable at the rim and on the offensive glass.

The return of that trio is the biggest reason Gonzaga will probably begin the season in the top 15 in the polls despite the graduation of its entire starting backcourt.

Promising redshirt freshman Josh Perkins will likely inherit the starting point guard job from Kevin Pangos and Kyle Dranginis, Silas Melson and Eric McClellan should each receive increased playing time at wing. The Zags are also in hot pursuit of a handful of transfers including former Drexel guard Damion Lee, who scored 21 points per game last season for the Dragons and would be a potential starter at wing for the Zags next season.   

Regardless of who plays guard for Gonzaga, its strength will be its frontcourt.

Wiltjer, Karnowski and Sabonis nearly carried the Zags to their first Final Four this spring. They'll all be back to try to finish the job next 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: April 20, 2015, 8:58 pm

For a team that lost its two best players to the NBA draft earlier this month, LSU still has a chance to be awfully good next season.

The Tigers are bringing in a recruiting class more than capable of offsetting the departure of all-conference forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey.

LSU landed another impact player Monday when Rivals.com's No. 41 prospect Brandon Sampson chose the Tigers over St. John's and Oklahoma State. The Baton Rouge native joins a recruiting class that already includes No. 1 overall prospect Ben Simmons, five-star scoring guard Antonio Blakeney and Arizona transfer Craig Victor.

A slender but sweet-shooting 6-foot-4 wing who excels in transition and can also finish at the rim, Sampson initially chose St. John's but reopened his recruitment when the Johnnies and fifth-year coach Steve Lavin parted ways earlier this spring. He considered St. John's anew after Chris Mullin was hired but opted instead to stay at home and join his talented classmates at LSU.

Sampson joins a well-stocked backcourt that also features Blakeney and returning starters Tim Quarterman, Keith Hornsby and Josh Gray. LSU is also in pursuit of highly touted wing Malik Newman, though the Tigers would have to outduel Mississippi State and Kentucky to get him and Sampson's commitment may make that an even greater long shot anyway. 

LSU's frontcourt will be unproven without Martin and Mickey, but the 6-foot-9 Simmons figures to emerge as the focal point. Victor was a former top 100 recruit who played sparingly at Arizona before leaving midway through his freshman season and returners Aaron Epps and Elbert Robinson should provide some depth behind the newcomers. LSU is also recruiting 6-foot-9 former Oregon signee Ray Kasongo, who spent the year in junior college after he didn't qualify academically to play for the Ducks.

The one concern with LSU is the program's history of often not getting the most out of the talent on its roster.

Last season, Johnny Jones' team suffered some head-scratching regular season losses to some of the SEC's worst teams and then blew a huge lead against NC State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Next season's Tigers have the potential to accomplish more if they can live up to it. 

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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: April 20, 2015, 5:20 pm

Had Utah center Jakob Poeltl entered this year's the NBA draft, the smooth, fluid 7-footer probably would have been selected in the first round. 

Instead Poeltl will return to the Utes for his sophomore season, gambling that an offseason spent adding muscle and diversifying his offensive repertoire can improve his stock next spring.

"I really enjoy it here at the University of Utah," Poeltl said in a statement released Monday morning. "I love my teammates, coaches and college in general. I think another year will help my development and I'm looking forward to next season."

Poeltl's patience gives Utah a good chance to remain nationally relevant next season. Do-it-all star Delon Wright and productive 7-footer Dallin Bachynski both are gone from this past season's 26-win Sweet 16 team, but Poeltl is the centerpiece of a returning core strong enough to keep the Utes in the Pac-12's upper echelon next year.

Rising senior guards Brandon Taylor and Jordan Loveridge will be responsible for taking over Wright's role as Utah's perimeter catalysts. Promising rising sophomores Brekkott Chapman, Chris Reyes and Isaiah Wright will be expected to shoulder greater responsibility next season. And Poeltl will have to develop into a more consistent low-post scoring threat and anchor what should be an excellent defense.

Poeltl started all but one game for Utah during its breakthrough season under Larry Krystkowiak and quickly emerged as a pleasant surprise. The Austria native shot 68 percent from the field, ranked third in the Pac-12 in blocks per game and averaged 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds.

He was at his best in the postseason, scoring in double figures in five of Utah's last six games and helping hold Duke's Jahlil Okafor to just six points in the Sweet 16.

"Jakob had a solid freshman season for us and made great strides but there is no doubt in my mind that his best basketball is ahead of him," Krystkowiak said in a statement. "He is driven, intelligent and an elite athlete. I'm excited he has faith in our program to turn the words `potential' and `project' into `proven' and possibly "prize."

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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: April 20, 2015, 2:34 pm

If the ideal commencement speaker should be both successful and inspiring, then the University of Albany is making a great choice.

School officials called on junior guard Peter Hooley, the hero of the Great Danes' America East tournament title game victory over Stony Brook.

Six weeks after his mother's death after a 4.5-year battle with colon cancer and four weeks after he returned from a period of bereavement in his native Australia, Hooley felled Stony Brook with a top-of-the-key three just before the buzzer sounded. The shot earned top-seeded Albany a one-point victory and propelled the Great Danes into the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season.

“It’s an honor for me to speak on behalf of our graduating class,” Hooley said in a release issued by the school. “I’m looking forward to congratulating everyone on our last four years together, as well as wishing the Class of 2015 the best going forward.”

Hooley's story attracted nationwide attention in March both because of his dramatic shot and his emotional and poignant reaction afterward. Tears flowed down his face as he knelt next to the scorer's table just after the final buzzer sounded.

Hooley dedicated the shot to his mother after the game, telling reporters it was only at her request that he decided to come back from Australia to finish the season at Albany. The 6-foot-4 guard expanded on his close relationship with his mother in a recent blog post titled "Dear Mum."

 

"Most people know the story of you and I back when you were diagnosed. I had always planned to go to America to play basketball, and the day we found out about your cancer, I told you I couldn’t go anymore. I had to be there for you, but you cut me off and almost put me on the plane yourself. You said I had to go, if not for me then for you. You wanted me to live my dream more than anything.

"A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from an anonymous person who reached out to me through my coach. A 12-year-old boy had just lost his mother on the Saturday before his championship basketball game on Sunday. The kid had told his Dad that he wanted to play because “Peter is playing for his mother.” They asked if I wanted to give him the boy a call and just talk to him. I said yes, of course. But right before I made the call, I wondered how I was going to manage it. I know you would have wanted me to do it, but I didn't think I could. This little boy had just been through my worst nightmare, and I was supposed to help him through it. How? But I called, and we had a good talk for a while. He was doing good. We spoke about basketball, video games, school and anything else he wanted to talk about. And right when I hung up the phone, I could only smile.

"I said from the beginning that if my story managed to touch just one person, then it had done its job. Yet, from all of this, it was maybe that one phone call that made me the happiest I had been in a long time. That one special moment I could share with a kid who was going through the toughest thing I had ever gone through, that made me feel like I had made you smile too. That I had made you proud."

Here's a recommendation for you, Peter: Share that story during your commencement speech on May 17. By the time it's over, there won't be a dry eye in the house.

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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: April 17, 2015, 7:16 pm

When elite center Stephen Zimmerman announced Thursday night that he has chosen UNLV over the likes of Kentucky, UCLA and Kansas, his decision surely inspired a mixture of joy and relief from Rebels coach Dave Rice. 

The presence of a skilled 7 footer can only help Rice entering a crucial year in which he will face pressure to finally achieve a breakthrough. 

In Rice's four-year tenure at UNLV, he has stockpiled more talent than any Rebels coach since the program's golden era under Jerry Tarkanian. He has landed nine Rivals top 50 prospects, six in the past three recruiting classes with Zimmerman (No. 11) and wing Derrick Jones (No. 43) set to arrive next fall and forward Justin Jackson (No. 40) coming the following year.

All that talent hasn't always translated into a return to the glory days just yet though. UNLV has yet to finish higher than third in the Mountain West under Rice, nor has it won an NCAA tournament game, falling in the opening round in both 2012 and 2013 before missing the postseason altogether the past two years.

The common complaint about Rice is that he's better at collecting talent than coaching it, but it's probably his approach to building a roster that merits scrutiny more than his Xs-and-Os prowess. Constant roster turnover and a lack of experience and chemistry have been the biggest factors in UNLV's struggles the past two seasons.  

Seven of UNLV's nine rotation players from the 2012-13 season did not return the following year. Five of UNLV's top eight players from the 2013-14 season were not back last year. The result has been a pair of talented but disjointed teams that take too long to mesh and often appear to be missing key elements necessary for success.  

UNLV will experience less roster turnover this offseason, but ex-transfers Cody Doolin and Jelan Kendrick are graduating and leading scorer Rashad Vaughn is headed to the NBA draft. The Rebels could also lose second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Christian Wood to the draft too depending on what he decides in the next week or two.

If Wood opts to delay NBA riches for one more season, however, the Rebels could boast one of the nation's elite frontcourts. He and Zimmerman would likely form a formidable duo in the starting lineup with Oregon transfer Ben Carter and former top 50 recruits Goodluck Okonoboh and Dwayne Morgan also in the mix.

The question would be whether UNLV would have sufficient guard play and outside shooting to complement that stable of frontcourt standouts.

Six-foot-6 combo guard Patrick McKaw will almost certainly be one of the starters after displaying great promise during the second half of his freshman season. Incoming freshmen Jones and Jaylen Poyser, Rutgers transfer Jerome Seagears and returners Jordan Cornish and Daquan Cook all figure to compete for playing time as well. 

How best to fit those pieces together and to mesh the newcomers with the returners is the challenge that lies ahead this offseason for Rice.

Talent-laden UNLV teams have underachieved under Rice the past couple seasons. He can't afford for it to happen again this season in a year that could be make or break for him.

Video of new UNLV commit Stephen Zimmerman:

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 17, 2015, 3:36 pm

The recent success of the perennially loaded Battle 4 Atlantis tournament has spawned another holiday tournament in the same region. 

Global Sports Management, in partnership with Caymax Sports LTD, announced Thursday it will hold a new eight-team tournament in the Cayman Islands beginning Nov. 2017. The Mountain West is sponsoring the Cayman Basketball Classic and will have a team in the field every year.

How much partnering with this event will help the Mountain West depends on the quality of the field Global Sports Management annually attracts and what sort of TV deal gets negotiated.

If power-conference programs flock to it and ESPN or another major network airs it, it could be a boost in exposure and strength of schedule for the Mountain West. If the event struggles to attract top teams or a prominent TV network, it could be more of a hassle than it's worth given the cross-country flight required for a Mountain West team to participate.

The blueprint for the Cayman Basketball Classic will surely be the Battle 4 Atlantis, which has brought some of the nation's elite programs to Paradise Island in the Bahamas the past few years.

Last November, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida and Georgetown were among the participants and seventh-place game combatants UCLA and UAB ended up meeting again in the Sweet 16. Next November, Syracuse, UConn, Michigan, Gonzaga and Texas will be among the eight participants. 

A strength of schedule boost would be welcome for the Mountain West given the schedules every team in the league besides San Diego State and UNLV have assembled in recent years. Boise State and Colorado State suffered in particular because of their schedules last March, the Broncos landing in the First Four despite earning a share of the regular season conference title and the Rams missing the NCAA tournament altogether despite a 27-win season.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 16, 2015, 11:17 pm
Oakland's new blacktop court (via Oakland Athletics)

Of the legion of college basketball programs who have tried to bolster their brand by installing distinctive new floors, only a few have actually managed to improve the look of their court.

Count Oakland University among those.

The new blacktop-style court that the Golden Grizzlies unveiled this week manages to successfully straddle the line between memorable and garish. All that's missing is a chain-link fence around the court and chains instead of nets.

"It’s branding our program," Coach Greg Kampe told the Oakland Press. I know that when our games are on TV, no matter where you are in the country, when you turn that game on, you’re going to know it’s Oakland University immediately when you see the floor. I’m really excited about that.”

The trend toward distinctive court designs began in 2010 when Oregon unveiled a new fir-tree lined court. More schools seem to follow suit every offseason, from Long Beach State's palm trees, to George Washington's D.C. monuments, to Florida International's beach theme.

Amazingly, Oakland isn't even the first Division I program to go with the blacktop-style look. Central Florida did it to mixed reviews two years ago.

So what Oakland lacks in originality it makes up for with a nice design. It's atypical, but it's an improvement.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 16, 2015, 5:23 pm

Had either sophomore forward Bobby Portis or junior guard Michael Qualls returned to school, Arkansas had a good chance to sustain last season's success and compete for a second straight NCAA bid.

Instead the Razorbacks appear poised to take a big step backward next season after losing both to the NBA draft on back-to-back days. 

Qualls' announcement Wednesday evening that he will turn pro ensures Arkansas will lose four of its top five scorers from a 27-win team that finished second to Kentucky in the SEC and nearly toppled North Carolina in the NCAA tournament's round of 32. Qualls, Portis and seniors Rashad Madden and Alandise Harris accounted for 65.1 percent of Arkansas' scoring this past season and 58.9 percent of its rebounding.

For Arkansas to weather that roster attrition and still remain an upper echelon SEC team, it will need returning guards Anthlon Bell and Anton Beard and talented but enigmatic big man Moses Kingsley to each make a substantial leap next season.

Bell is a streaky 3-point shooter who averaged an impressive 7.9 points per game off the bench but shot only 37 percent from the field. Beard is a point guard who sparked Arkansas for a stretch during league play but faded terribly late in the season and went scoreless in the NCAA tournament. Kingsley is a former coveted recruit who has shown flashes of fulfilling his pedigree but has so far lacked the intensity or skill level on offense to become an impact player.

Arkansas will also need immediate contributions from its two top incoming recruits. Six-foot-9 center Ted Kapita and 6-foot-2 guard Jimmy Whitt both are top 100 prospects with the potential to help Arkansas make up for all that it has lost.

The frustrating thing for Arkansas has to be how close it was to having a preseason top 20 team next fall.

Portis reportedly strongly considered returning even though the SEC player of the year's ability to run the floor and knock down mid-range jumpers makes him a likely mid-first-round pick this June. And Qualls arguably should have come back considering the high-flying 6-foot-5 shooting guard isn't likely to be taken in the first round and would have greatly benefited from another year to improve his wayward jump shot. 

Nonetheless, both turned pro, leaving the Razorbacks with plenty of holes to fill. That's why another upper echelon SEC finish appears unlikely unless some of their unproven players make great strides this summer.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 16, 2015, 3:07 pm

NC State guard Trevor Lacey isn't likely to be selected in this June's NBA draft. He would be the centerpiece of a preseason top 20 Wolfpack team if he returned to school.

So clearly Lacey made a bad decision Wednesday when he announced he was forgoing his final year of college eligibility and entering the draft, right? Well, not necessarily.

Lacey will turn 24 in October, young by real-life standards but not for a pro basketball prospect. He'd be 25 by the start of his first professional season if he returned to NC State as a fifth-year senior making him as much as six years older than fellow draft prospects. 

For Lacey, staying in school would mean forfeiting another year of earning potential, something that is a lot tougher to do as a 24-year-old than it is at 19 or 20. The window to make money playing pro basketball is only so long, and Lacey doesn't want to waste another year of it even if it means trying to fight his way onto an NBA roster as an undrafted free agent or heading overseas to play in Europe or Asia.

Whereas younger prospects can sometimes improve their draft stock and their initial NBA salary by returning to school, Lacey doesn't have that same room for growth. Scouts have watched Lacey for years and have a pretty good idea of what he is as a prospect: A scorer who excels at making tough shots off isolation plays but lacks the size, length or elite athleticism to be more than a fringe NBA prospect.

The downside to Lacey's decision is that he could have enjoyed a special season at NC State had he came back as a fifth-year senior.

Seven of the Wolfpack's top eight scorers from a 22-win team would have been back had Lacey opted to return. They also add West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson, who is nearly the outside shooting threat that lone departee Ralston Turner was but also is a more versatile scorer.

NC State can still make the NCAA tournament without Lacey, but the second-team All-ACC pick won't be easy to replace. He averaged 15.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists last year, his first with the Wolfpack after sitting out the previous year following a transfer from Alabama.

A few minutes after NC State released that Lacey was leaving, Lacey sent the following two tweets.

One day they love you they next minute they hate you lol

— Trevor Lacey (@TrevorLacey5) April 15, 2015

Mama always told me I can't please everyone.

— Trevor Lacey (@TrevorLacey5) April 15, 2015

NC State fans have every right to be disappointed, but they should cut Lacey some slack.

This was a tough decision. It wasn't an illogical one though.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 15, 2015, 8:26 pm

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson needs to massively upgrade his program's talent level to compete in the American Athletic Conference. Houston native Damyean Dotson sought a school willing to offer a chance to resurrect his stalled career.

As a result, it appears the second-year coach and Oregon transfer will form a partnership that can only be described as high-risk, high-reward.

Houston announced Wednesday that it has signed Dotson just over a year after he and two teammates were at the center of a sexual assault investigation. No charges were filed in the case because authorities were skeptical they could prove the sex was nonconsensual, but Oregon still dismissed Dotson, fellow starter Dominic Artis and Providence transfer Brandon Austin last spring. 

"He has learned from previous experiences in his life and has shown himself worthy of a second chance," Sampson said in a statement released Wednesday by the school. "I am certain that he will make the most of this opportunity."

The situation underscores the risk-reward choices a school like Houston must make as it seeks to raise its stature in college basketball.

On the one hand, Houston went 13-19 in Sampson's debut season and lacked sufficient talent to compete with the likes of league powers UConn, Memphis, Cincinnati and SMU. On the other hand, taking some kids with checkered histories may be the only way Sampson can upgrade his roster in short order because top 100 prospects with choir boy images probably aren't knocking down the Cougars' door at this point.

Still, the boom-or-bust factor with Dotson is especially high because of the 6-foot-5 guard's talent and the severity of the allegations against him.

Dotson started 70 games in two seasons at Oregon and averaged 10.4 points and 3.4 rebounds for a pair of Ducks teams that won at least a game in the NCAA tournament. He is capable of being an impact player for Houston, but another off-court misstep could bring a torrent of negative publicity for him and the school and raise questions regarding whether Sampson and his staff vetted Dotson's past sufficiently.

Sampson told the Houston Chronicle he has researched Dotson's past extensively and feels comfortable adding him to Houston's roster. For the past year, Dotson has taken classes at a community college and worked in John Lucas' Athletes After-Care Program. He will continue to meet with Lucas on a weekly basis even while he is enrolled at Houston, Sampson said.

Since Dotson is eligible immediately after sitting out this past season, he should help Houston ascend in the American Athletic Conference next year.

Leading scorer Jherrod Stiggers will forgo his final year of eligibility and turn pro, but starters Danrad Knowles, Devonta Pollard and LJ Rose are expected back and a handful of new recruits will also arrive. Houston will also add transfer Ronnie Johnson, who averaged 10.8 points and 3.7 assists in his final year at Purdue.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 15, 2015, 6:09 pm

The Duke team that takes the floor next November will bear little resemblance to the one that captured the national championship nine days ago in Indianapolis. 

The Blue Devils will have to replace four starters who accounted for 71.4 percent of their points, 58.6 percent of their rebounds and 76.7 percent of their assists this past season.

Point guard Tyus Jones became the third Duke freshman to leave the program Wednesday morning when he joined classmates Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow in declaring for the NBA draft. Senior guard Quinn Cook is the fourth starter leaving the Blue Devils.

Whereas it was a foregone conclusion for weeks that Okafor and Winslow would enter the draft, it was less clear what Jones would do. The 6-foot-1 point guard will likely be selected in the first round because of his ability to knock down outside shots or get into the lane and set up shooters or big men, but concerns about his modest size, strength and lateral quickness will hurt his chances of cracking the lottery. 

Jones boosted his stock this season with his performances in some of Duke's biggest wins. He scored a combined 46 points in two victories against rival North Carolina, he made the most crucial plays down the stretch when the Blue Devils became the first team to beat ACC champion Virginia this season and he was the most outstanding player in the national title game against Wisconsin.

"People have already seen him and know how he handles himself, especially in pressure situations and in the biggest games," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement "He comes through like a champion. I loved coaching him, and I believe he’ll be an outstanding professional. At this time, I think it’s so appropriate for him to take advantage of this opportunity."

Jones' departure instantly makes point guard Duke's biggest question mark entering next season.

Combo guard Grayson Allen might be best suited to fill the void unless Krzyzewski adds a transfer or a late signee. There's also a chance that the Blue Devils could persuade class of 2016 prospect Derryck Thornton to reclassify and come to Durham a year early, but Scout.com reported Wednesday that such a move is still unlikely to happen.

In addition to concerns about point guard play, Duke also may not have much in the way of perimeter depth next season, nor will there be any proven low-post scoring threats on the roster. 

Allen, returning starter Matt Jones and highly touted incoming freshman Luke Kennard are each quality players, but Duke needs to find another option or two off the bench behind them. Incoming freshman Chase Jeter, Rice transfer Sean Obi and returners Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee form a solid frontcourt, but none of those guys are likely to instantly command double teams the way Okafor did.

While there's still time for Duke to address the holes in its roster for next season, it seems clear the Blue Devils are likely to take a step backward if they don't.

In Krzyzewski's previous  35 years in Durham, he had only lost five one-and-done players to the NBA draft. He lost three in seven days this spring, leaving the Blue Devils scrambling to avoid a rare rebuilding season.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 15, 2015, 3:09 pm

The Duke freshman whose stock rose fastest during the Blue Devils' national championship run is poised to take advantage.

Justise Winslow announced Tuesday he is forgoing his final three years of college eligibility and entering the NBA draft.

"My family and I have decided that I should declare," Winslow said in a statement. "Considering the success and growth that I have experienced over this past year as a player and as a person, I believe it is time to take the next step on my career path and play at the highest level."

The departure of Winslow has been nearly a foregone conclusion for weeks because of how brilliantly he has performed since late January when he replaced Amile Jefferson in Duke's starting lineup as an undersized power forward.

Winslow cemented himself as a lottery pick by averaging 14.6 points per game during the latter half of the ACC regular season and the league tournament and elevated his stock even further by spearheading Duke's title push. In six NCAA tournament games, Winslow was unstoppable in transition, dangerous off the dribble and deadly from behind the arc, averaging 14.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists to lead the Blue Devils to their fifth national title.

One concern about Winslow is that he'll have to slide back to the wing in the NBA, meaning his quickness won't be such a mismatch for opposing defenders. His outside shot had also been considered a weakness entering the season, but he shot 41.8 percent from behind the arc for the season and 8 of 13 in the NCAA tournament, repeatedly punishing opposing defenders who helped off him or played him to drive.

Winslow becomes the sixth one-and-done prospect in Mike Krzyzewski's Duke tenure, joining classmate Jahlil Okafor and previous Blue Devils stars Corey Maggette, Luol Deng, Kyrie Irving, Austin Rivers and Jabari Parker. Point guard Tyus Jones could be No. 7 if he too decides to enter the draft later this month.

If all three star freshmen leave, Duke will be a vastly different team next season. The Blue Devils will have to build around title game hero Grayson Allen, returning starter Matt Jones and an incoming class that includes highly touted Chase Jeter and Luke Kennard.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 14, 2015, 9:49 pm

When Shaka Smart left for Texas earlier this month, VCU may have lost more than just the most successful coach in program history.

The Rams also could have to say goodbye to all three members of Smart's final recruiting class.

Tevin Mack, Rivals.com's No. 78 recruit in the class of 2015, has received a release from his letter of intent, ESPN.com reported Tuesday. The 6-foot-6 small forward originally chose VCU in November over UConn, South Carolina and Georgia.

Mack's decision comes less than a week after fellow Rivals 150 prospects Kenny Williams and Jordan Murphy also received releases from their letters of intent to VCU. Williams, a sweet-shooting 6-foot-2 guard from Virginia, initially chose the Rams over North Carolina. Murphy, a 6-foot-7 small forward from Texas, had previously considered UNLV.

It's unclear at this point whether new VCU Will Wade will be able to persuade any of the three to reconsider and stick with the Rams. Wade, a former assistant under Smart who spent the past couple years coaching Chattanooga, will likely run a similar trapping, up-tempo system to his predecessor's. 

The potential loss of a strong recruiting class is a blow to a VCU program that also must replace departed seniors Treveon Graham and Briante Weber. VCU will build around the likes of highly touted wings Terry Larrier and Melvin Johnson and frontcourt standout Mo Alie-Cox next season.

Rivals.com video of Tevin Mack:

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 14, 2015, 8:45 pm

The player most responsible for spearheading Arkansas' return to national relevance this past season is leaving the Razorbacks.

Sophomore forward Bobby Portis announced Tuesday that he will forgo his final two years of eligibility and enter the NBA draft.

pic.twitter.com/QS7a4VS8Tj

— Bobby BP Portis (@BPortistime) April 14, 2015

The decision from Portis is no surprise because he is projected as a mid-first-round draft pick after earning SEC player of the year honors this past season. The 6-foot-10 Portis averaged 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and shot 54 percent from the field, leading Arkansas to 27 wins, a second-place finish in the SEC and the program's first NCAA bid under coach Mike Anderson.

What made Portis a coveted recruit before he arrived at Arkansas was his motor, his size and length, his consistent mid-range jump shot and his ability to run the floor and finish around the rim. He excelled in all those areas with the Razorbacks and extended his range all the way out to the 3-point line, giving him the chance to be a dangerous stretch forward in the NBA with a knack for scoring around the rim too.

The departure of Portis increases the likelihood that Arkansas will take a step backward next season after spending most of this past year in the AP Top 25. The Razorbacks could lose four of their top five scorers depending on whether junior wing Michael Qualls also opts to enter the draft.

Qualls, the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder, is projected as a second-round pick by most mock drafts. The 6-foot-6 Louisiana native is expected to reveal his draft plans in the next couple weeks.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 14, 2015, 5:52 pm

As Kansas celebrated its accomplishments this past season at its team banquet Monday night, Perry Ellis gave the Jayhawks some good news for next year.

The 6-foot-8 all-conference forward is returning for his senior season.

Ellis' decision was likely a wise one for several reasons. He probably would have been a second-round pick had he entered the draft and he has a chance to elevate his stock as a senior while playing a leading role on what could be a special Kansas team.

Thanks to the anticipated return of point guards Frank Mason and Devonte Graham and wings Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kansas appears pretty loaded on the perimeter. Ellis' return ensures the Jayhawks have a low-post scoring threat to pair with all that perimeter talent.

Ellis averaged 13.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game last season, shot 45.7 percent from the floor and hit 39.1 percent of his 3-pointers. A sprained right knee suffered in Kansas' regular season finale against West Virginia limited his effectiveness in the postseason, contributing to the Jayhawks' early Big 12 tournament exit and round of 32 NCAA tournament loss to Wichita State. 

With Ellis back, top frontcourt recruit Carlton Bragg faces less pressure to emerge as an impact scorer as a freshman and veterans Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson can each contribute in the reserve roles for which they're best suited. There's also less urgency for Bill Self to land one of the frontcourt targets he's pursuing this spring, though the Jayhawks would gladly find minutes for Stephen Zimmerman, Cheick Diallo or Thon Maker if one of those five-star big men decide to come.

Regardless of whether Kansas adds anyone this spring, the Jayhawks appear poised to begin next season solidly in the top 10 in the polls and perhaps in the top five. They have two quality point guards. They have an array of talented wings. And now with Ellis back, they retain the low-post scoring threat and senior leader they need to make a serious Final Four push.

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 14, 2015, 2:54 pm

If the most common euphemism when people die of cancer is that they lost their battle with the disease, that couldn't be further from the truth in the case of Lauren Hill.

Hill won her fight with cancer even if it ultimately took her life on Friday morning at age 19.

In the 18 months between Hill's diagnosis and her death, the Mount St. Joseph University freshman accomplished more than many people do in a lifetime.

She inspired millions across the nation by fulfilling her goal of playing in a college basketball game even though doctors feared she might be dead by the time the season began. She appeared in a handful of subsequent games in November and December despite sporadic dizziness and nausea, severe balance issues and a sensitivity to light and loud noises that forced her to wear sunglasses and earplugs on the bench.

Lauren Hill gives a thumbs-up during her first NCAA college basketball game. (AP)While Hill eventually hung up her high tops and accepted the role of honorary Mount St. Joseph coach just before Christmas, her fight to raise money for pediatric cancer research continued into the spring. In all, Lauren helped raise $1.4 million via donations and her #Layup4Lauren Challenge, earning support and encouragement from such sporting luminaries as LeBron James, Richard Sherman and Pat Summitt.

Hill's legacy is her generosity, perseverance and courage in the face of certain death. She could never be sure whether she had a few days, a few weeks or a few months left, so she refused to let even a second go to waste, embracing life until the end while juggling the TV interviews and public appearances that were central to her mission of spreading awareness about her condition.

One reason Hill's story proved inspirational for so many is because she was so identifiable. The Indiana native was just an ordinary high school girl who loved pizza and pop music before her diagnosis waylaid her and her family.

Neither Hill nor her parents had any inkling something was wrong in Oct. 2013, when she struggled to keep pace with her Lawrenceburg High School teammates during preseason conditioning. Only after Hill endured sporadic balance and hand-eye coordination issues, bouts of dizziness and occasional blurry vision did her parents finally take her to the hospital for precautionary tests.

The results of that MRI and CT scan were heartbreaking. 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.

Basketball had been one of Hill's passions since sixth grade, but it became even more important to her in the months following her diagnosis.

Initially, practices and games provided Hill a respite from her troubles and a brief return to normalcy. Later, her quest to play college basketball drew enough media attention that she began to view the sport as a way to inspire others in her position and raise awareness for her cause.

The apex of those efforts was Mount St. Joseph's Nov. 2 season opener against Hiram College. Ten thousand fans packed the Cintas Center at Xavier University to see Hill score the first and last basket of her team's victory and hundreds of thousands more watched from their sofas on national television.

In ensuing months, Hill remained upbeat even as her condition worsened. She was honored at local sporting events. She appeared on the cover of a Wheaties box and in her own Upper Deck basketball card. She even struck up a friendship with Cincinnati Bengals player Devon Still, whose daughter was battling cancer.

In October, as Hill was preparing to play in her first college game, her mother told Yahoo Sports what the freshman forward wanted to accomplish in spite of her cancer.

"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."

Hill achieved that, and then some. Cancer ultimately took her life but it never took her spirit.

 

Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 10, 2015, 8:57 pm

Lauren Hill inspired the world this year as she battled inoperable brain cancer, raising more than $1.5 million along the way.

The determined teen passed away early Friday morning, several months later than doctors expected, and the wider basketball community immediately took to Twitter to show support and love for her family. 

LeBron James was one of the first, posting a series of tweets expressing his admiration for Hill and asking her to pass along a personal message.

Dear Lauren Hill, You are the true definition of strength, courage, power, leadership, etc etc! Your time spent on earth will never be...

— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 10, 2015

forgotten. I have that I never got the chance to meet u in person but know you inspired me the whole time! For every life u touched, u...

— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 10, 2015

made the biggest impact of them by just being YOU!! You're in a far better place now and please don't have to much fun up there w/o all...

— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 10, 2015

your family and friends. Can u please tell my Grandma I said hello. Don't be afraid, she knows you cause we spoke about u plenty of times..

— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 10, 2015

Until we officially meet again, take care and continue to be that LEADER we all love! #RIPLaurenHill Sincerely, LeBron James

— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 10, 2015
Author: Danielle Elliot
Posted: April 10, 2015, 8:06 pm

Lauren Hill, the college basketball player who fought an inspiring public battle with brain cancer and raised over $1.5 million for research while doing so, died Friday morning at age 19.

Hill, who played at Division III Mount St. Joseph University in the Cincinnati area, made national headlines last fall when the school successfully petitioned the NCAA to move its season opener to an earlier date so the freshman could play. Hill's story quickly went viral, the Nov. 2 game against Hiram College was nationally televised and Xavier University's Cintas Center was packed with 10,000 fans as Hill scored on a layup to fulfill her dream of playing college basketball.

"It's a dream come true," Hill said that day. "To play on a college court, to put my foot down on the floor and hear the roar of the crowd — I just love it so much. I love basketball.

"Everything that happened today was amazing. I'm truly happy, it's a really good day."

Despite battling an inoperable brain tumor and fighting bouts of nauseau and dizziness, Hill played four games and scored on five layups. She also started "Lauren's Fight For Cure," a non-profit that has raised over $1.5 million to research a cure for diffused intrinsinc pontine giloma (DIPG), a rare pediatric brain tumor that affects the brain stem.

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Kevin Kaduk is a writer for Yahoo Sports.. Have a tip? Email him at kevinkaduk@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Kevin Kaduk
Posted: April 10, 2015, 12:59 pm

Even though Kentucky didn't become college basketball's first 40-0 team, the Wildcats may still make history this spring. 

They could become the first program to produce seven selections in one NBA draft, breaking their own record of six after the 2011-12 season.

Seven Kentucky underclassmen jointly announced they're turning pro at a news conference in Lexington on Thursday afternoon. Forward Karl-Anthony Towns is a potential No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Center Willie Cauley-Stein, forward Trey Lyles and guard Devin Booker are each surefire first-round selections. And while center Dakari Johnson and guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison could slip to the second round, all three have a good chance to be selected.

Saying goodbye to seven underclassmen would be difficult to overcome for any other program, but the Wildcats will reload rather than rebuild. They surely won't make a run at an undefeated season again next winter, but they could still contend for a national championship.

Kentucky will build around rising sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis and veteran frontcourt standouts Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress. Ulis has the potential to be one of the nation's elite pass-first point guards, while Poythress will try to prove he has regained his explosiveness after tearing an ACL in November, and Lee will try to take advantage of his first real chance to make an impact after two seasons as Kentucky's fifth big man.

It's unclear how many elite recruits Kentucky will bring in, but three are coming for sure. Skilled forward Skal Labissiere (No. 4 in Rivals rankings), high-scoring guard Isaiah Briscoe (No. 10) and wing Charles Matthews (No. 58) each signed in the fall. 

The available playing time created by Thursday's roster turnover should make the Wildcats more attractive to some of the elite prospects they're pursuing this spring too.

Elite wing Jaylen Brown, Rivals.com's No. 2 prospect, lists Kentucky among the eight schools he is still considering. Guard Malik Newman, Rivals.com's No. 3 prospect, is likely to choose between Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State and Kansas. Among the other top 20 prospects Kentucky is targeting this spring are forwards Thon Maker and Cheick Diallo and center Stephen Zimmeran.

Even if Kentucky lands just one more top guard and one more top big man, the Wildcats will enter next season as the clear favorite to win the SEC and a potential title threat. They also have guard Dominique Hawkins and forward Derek Willis, who are more than capable of playing a bigger role off the bench than they did last season.

Kentucky won't have the size or depth it had last season when it featured an armada of 7-footers to protect the rim, but the Wildcats still have a chance to be formidable.

Duke won a national championship with four freshmen and eight scholarship players on Monday night. Kentucky will probably be a threat to do something similar.

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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: April 9, 2015, 6:50 pm

Jake Layman's looming decision whether to enter the NBA draft was the one thing standing between Maryland and a surefire top five preseason ranking next fall.

Now that the 6-foot-8 forward has made a wise choice to return to school, there's little doubt the Terrapins will be one of next season's elite teams.

Maryland will have perhaps the Big Ten's best frontcourt next season with McDonald's All-American Diamond Stone at center, coveted Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter at power forward and Layman sliding down to his more natural small forward position. The Terps will miss the scoring, distributing and leadership of Dez Wells in the backcourt, but Melo Trimble should be one of the nation's best scoring guards as a sophomore and Dion Wiley and Jared Nickens should absorb much of Wells' playing time. 

What could elevate Maryland from title contender to potential title favorite is its pursuit of Drexel transfer Damion Lee.

The 6-foot-6 Baltimore native is perhaps the most sought-after graduate transfer on the market so far this spring after averaging 21.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game as a junior. He'd be an ideal replacement for Wells in Maryland's starting lineup and would enable Wiley and Nickens to remain the top options off the bench. 

Layman's decision to return appears shrewd for several reasons.

Though his length, athleticism and versatility make him an intriguing prospect for NBA scouts, he was more likely to be selected in the second round than the first had he entered this June's draft. Returning to school gives him another offseason to get stronger and tougher and enables him to showcase himself at his natural position for a potential national title contender next season.

“I would like to thank Coach Turgeon for his guidance during this process,” Layman said in a release from the school. “Maryland is my home and we had great success this year. There is so much to look forward to next season and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

This past season, Maryland became one of the nation's pleasant surprises when it won 28 games, finished second in the Big Ten and reached the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament.

Next season, the only surprise will be if the Terps don't exceed those accomplishments.

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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: April 9, 2015, 4:11 pm

Georgetown junior guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera declared for the NBA draft on March 31, but he had second thoughts and Tuesday officially decided to return to school for his senior season, according to an ESPN report.

Smith-Rivera is not considered a first-round draft pick and probably made the best decision in giving himself another year to improve his game, another year to try to win a championship at the college level and another year of progress toward earning his degree.

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While Smith-Rivera led Georgetown in scoring at 16.3 points per game, he is only a 6-foot-3 shooting guard. Smith-Rivera would be wise to return to school and work on skills that will give him a chance to play point guard at the next level. 

 

DraftExpress.com doesn't have Smith-Rivera rated as a drafted player in this year's draft and rates him only as the 61st best junior. That clearly isn't a position from which any player should be choosing to turn pro. Of course, draft analysts don't always get it right, but they are seldom so far off that a player comes out of nowhere to be drafted, which would have been the case if Smith-Rivera remained in the pool of early entry prospects.

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: April 8, 2015, 4:24 pm

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John Wooden has company.

And so does Geno Auriemma.

Wooden became a legend coaching the UCLA men to 10 national championships in basketball in a 12-year span in the 1960s and 1970s, earning the nickname the Wizard of Westwood.

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Auriemma equaled that achievement Tuesday night in Tampa when his Huskies defeated Notre Dame 63-53 to earn his 10th national championship, two more than legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt.

In the buildup to the game Tuesday, Auriemma warned that he and his Huskies are bound to eventually lose one of these title games. But that warning seemed almost ridiculous during the championship game, which the Huskies controlled throughout. Auriemma is 10-0 in national championship games. 

“I’ll be the first to say, I’m not John Wooden,” Auriemma said in his postgame interview with ESPN. “I’ve got a bunch of friends that would tell that I’m right. I’m not. But as I said the other day, I just think what we’ve done here the last 20 years is pretty remarkable in its own right.

“I’ll let the people who write the history decide where I fit in.”

While he is not as revered as Wooden --  perhaps because he’s still coaching, maybe because he is viewed as opinionated and brash -- Auriemma is building a mountain of accomplishments that might prove every bit as difficult to match for future women’s coaches as Wooden’s achievements have been on the men’s side.

Auriemma was asked repeatedly before Tuesday’s game about matching Wooden’s 10 titles and building a dynasty in the women’s game the way Wooden dominated for more than a decade in the men’s game.

“I just know that in our sport, from 1995 to today, what we've done against our peers is as good if not better than anybody else has done in their sport against their peers,” Auriemma said. “I don't care whether it's harder in that sport or this sport or that sport.

“I understand all that. Don't get me wrong. But given the rules that we play with, with all the people we compete against, I'm pretty proud we've done it the way we've done it for as long as we've done it.”

Notre Dame and coach Muffet McGraw lost in the championship game for the fourth time in five years. The Fighting Irish watched Texas A&M celebrate in 2011, Baylor in 2012 and UConn last year and once again Tuesday night.

Once again this season, Naismith Player of the Year Breanna Stewart played a huge role, leading the Huskies to their eighth consecutive Final Four and helping Auriemma make history. But junior guard Moriah Jefferson, a product of Glenn Heights, Texas, gave Notre Dame fits in the title game.

Her quick hands and feet allowed her to tip balls and disrupt the flow of the Notre Dame offense. The Fighting Irish chose to play off her on the other end, perhaps remembering her 0-for-8 performance in UConn’s win at Notre Dame in the regular season in December. Jefferson came up big offensively as well, scoring 15 points with four steals and five assists.

Stewart was held to eight points but grabbed 15 rebounds, overcoming a first-half ankle injury. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis also scored 15 points including two big shots late in the game to thwart a Notre Dame run.

“I know we’ve won a lot of these but I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud of a group of kids that I am of this group because I didn’t trust them in the beginning of the season,” Auriemma said in his postgame ESPN interview. “I didn’t trust them one bit.

“…Each day they got more trustworthy themselves I think that just culminated tonight.”

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: April 8, 2015, 2:48 am

By now you’ve probably seen the blown call that went against Wisconsin with just under two minutes left in Monday night’s national championship.

If you missed it, Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig drove into the lane and attempted a layup in traffic and missed badly. The ball went up in the air and players from both sides fought for the ball, which deflected off a hand and out of bounds. The officials initially ruled that the ball hit off of Koenig, giving the ball back to Duke.

However, a closer, zoomed-in replay showed that the ball clearly glanced off the finger of Duke’s Justise Winslow.

His finger bent! Terrible call. https://t.co/FRwUS9D7nS

— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) April 7, 2015

Even after a review of nearly two minutes, possession was awarded to Duke in a head-scratching decision.

To explain how the blown call transpired, NCAA head of officiating John Adams appeared on Sirius XM radio and made a pretty surprising admission that they never saw the definitive replay that viewers saw at home.

“All four of our officials were involved in the review. We never saw, on our monitor, what everybody saw at home, if you can believe that,” Adams said. 

However, after the officials left the monitor and made their ruling, Adams said he saw the zoomed-in view of the ball clearly touching Winslow’s finger.

At that point he had the opportunity to quickly make a decision.

“I saw it after they had left the monitor, and actually thought about, is it in my prerogative to get up, run over to the table, buzz the buzzer, and tell them to come back and look?” Adams said. “That’s how critical I thought the play was and concluded that this is a job for the guys on the floor. I’ve never done it before. Why would I do it tonight and perhaps change the balance of the game?” 

It’s pretty surprising that Adams wouldn’t blatantly admit that a mistake had been made and even more surprising that he’d admit that he had the opportunity to correct the mistake. To do so, it seems like he would have had to forgo protocol that had been followed with the replay system for the entire season.

Beyond that, Adams seemed to cast a bit of blame toward the review system itself and said that the incident will be looked at moving forward.

“They’d already left. It will be one of the things we will follow up on,” Adams said. “We’ve been told time and time again that nobody at home will see anything you didn’t see. And I will tell you that’s not what happened last night. That’s not an excuse; that’s just laying it out for you.”

While it’s nice that Adams was so transparent in explaining how it all went down, none of it will make Wisconsin fans feel any better.

After the possession was ultimately given to Duke, freshman guard Tyus Jones – the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player – drilled a three-pointer to increase the Blue Devils’ lead from five to eight.

The Badgers were able to cut the Duke lead down to three, but could not quite get over the hump and Duke prevailed, 68-63, to take home the fifth national title in program history.

(H/T Deadspin)

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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Sam Cooper
Posted: April 7, 2015, 9:32 pm

The UConn Huskies and Notre Dame Fighting Irish are meeting in the NCAA women's title game for the second straight year and there's a lot at stake.

If the Huskies win, they will take their third straight title and give coach Geno Auriemma two full hands of rings with his 10th title. UConn has never lost a title game under Auriemma, going a perfect nine-for-nine.

If the Irish win, Notre Dame will win its second title in school history. The Irish won a national championship in 2001 and reached the title game in 2011, 2012 and 2014.

The game will tip off at 8:30 ET at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. The game is being televised on ESPN.

Author: Yahoo Sports Staff
Posted: April 7, 2015, 7:38 pm

Two Illinois State athletics staff members died tragically late Monday night.

Associate men's basketball coach Torrey Ward and deputy athletic director Aaron Leetch were two of seven people killed in a plane crash Monday night near Bloomington, Ill., Illinois State confirmed in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. The passengers aboard the private plane attended the national title game between Duke and Wisconsin in Indianapolis on Monday night but encountered heavy fog on their flight home.

"Words cannot fully express the grief that is felt in the wake of such a tragedy," Illinois State president Larry H. Dietz said in a statement. "We move between shock and profound sadness."

A native of Birmingham, Ward played at UAB from 1997 to 2000, starting 74 games and helping the Blazers reach the NCAA tournament as a junior. He played professionally in China before stints as an assistant coach at Jacksonville State, Ole Miss and Illinois State.

Ward worked with Illinois State's big men the past few years, helping Jackie Carmichael earn all-conference honors in 2013 and developing Reggie Lynch into an all-conference center this past season. His haunting final tweet came from Monday's national title game.

My ride to the game wasn't bad.. #indy2015f4 pic.twitter.com/8RCDcAf7Is

— ILStateWard (@CoachTWard) April 7, 2015

Leetch held different positions within the Illinois State athletic department from 2005-11 and from 2013 until his death. In between, he spent two years as the athletic director at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash.

Ward is survived by two young children. Leetch leaves behind his wife and two daughters.

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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: April 7, 2015, 7:20 pm

The 2015 national championship basketball game between Duke and Wisconsin on CBS Monday night drew the largest overnight rating in 18 years. 

The game attracted a 17.1 share in Nielsen metered markets, the biggest overnight rating for the championship game since Arizona beat Kentucky in the 1997 championship game. The rating increased 33 percent over last year's national title game between UConn and Kentucky, which drew a 12.9 rating. 

Overnight ratings for 2015 NCAA tournament on CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV averaged a 7.8, which is up 13 percent from last year and is the best average overnight rating for the tournament since 1993. 

Here is a look at the top-five metered markets for the championship game provided by CBS and Turner Sports:

1.      Milwaukee – 42.2/59

2.      Raleigh-Durham – 36.2/54

3.      Louisville – 33.5/48

4.      Columbus – 29.9/44

5.      Greensboro-High Point-Winston Salem – 29.5/43

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Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: April 7, 2015, 4:17 pm

INDIANAPOLIS – The layer of confetti on the floor at Lucas Oil Stadium hadn't even been cleared yet Monday night when speculation about next year's college basketball season began.

A clear-headed look at next season is difficult at this point since nine Rivals top 20 recruits have yet to choose a school, transfer season is only just beginning and we don't know which NBA draft prospects will stay in school and which will leave. Nonetheless, based on my best guesses for who's staying and who's going, here's a way-too-early look at the best teams for the 2015-16 season.

1. Virginia
Key losses:
F Darion Atkins
Key returners: G Malcolm Brogdon, F Anthony Gill, G Justin Anderson, C Mike Tobey, G London Perrantes, G Marial Shayok, F Evan Nolte
Notable newcomers: F Jarred Reuter
Outlook: For most of this past season, Virginia was a fixture in the top five in the polls because of an elite defense and a methodical but highly efficient offense. Then the Cavaliers lost wing Justin Anderson to a fractured pinkie in February and never really recovered. With Anderson either not on the floor or not at full strength, Virginia lacked enough outside shooters and became too reliant on Malcolm Brogdon to create off the dribble. They missed more shots and committed more turnovers, creating more transition opportunities for their opponents and reducing the effectiveness of their formidable defense. The fate of Virginia’s 2014-15 season illustrates the importance of whether Anderson decides to return for his senior season or turn pro. If Anderson returns, Virginia brings back every key player from last season besides forward Darion Atkins and has a great chance to begin the season atop the polls, contend for a third straight ACC title and finally make that elusive deep NCAA tournament run. If Anderson leaves, the Cavs need other perimeter scorers to emerge in support of Brogdon to avoid a repeat of the final month of this past season.

2. North Carolina
Key losses:
None
Key returners: G Marcus Paige, F Justin Jackson, F Kennedy Meeks, F Brice Johnson, G Nate Britt, F J.P. Tokoto, C Joel James, G Joel Berry II, F Isaiah Hicks, G Theo Pinson, F Desmond Hubert
Notable newcomers: F Luke Maye
Outlook: Justin Jackson’s announcement last week that he’s returning for his sophomore season could go a long way toward propelling North Carolina into contention in the ACC and nationally. The highly touted 6-foot-8 forward peaked late in the season, lighting up Virginia’s vaunted defense for 22 points in the ACC tournament and averaging 15 points in the Tar Heels’ three NCAA tournament games. If he blossoms into a star and North Carolina returns the rest of its rotation from a 26-win team, it won’t matter that the Tar Heels aren’t adding their usual array of elite recruits. They’ll have enough returning talent to make a championship push for the first time since 2012. Jackson and leading returning scorer Marcus Paige provide perimeter shooting and an ability to score off the dribble. Ultra-athletic J.P. Tokoto is a dynamo in transition with the length and athleticism to become a good defender. Kennedy Meeks is an elite back-to-the-basket scorer and Brice Johnson is exceptional running the floor and gobbling up offensive rebounds.

3. Kentucky
Key losses:
F Karl-Anthony Towns (Projected to leave), G Aaron Harrison (Projected to leave), G Andrew Harrison (Projected to leave), F Trey Lyles (Projected to leave), G Devin Booker (Projected to leave), C Dakari Johnson (Projected to leave), C Willie Cauley-Stein (Projected to leave)
Key returners: G Tyler Ulis, F Alex Poythress, F Marcus Lee
Notable newcomers: F Skal Labissiere, G Isaiah Briscoe, G Charles Matthews
Outlook: Though Kentucky could lose as many as seven players to the NBA draft from a team that won its first 38 games this past season, the Wildcats will still reload rather than rebuild. John Calipari has already signed three top incoming freshmen — skilled forward Skal Labissiere, lead guard Isaiah Briscoe and wing Charles Matthews — and he has the Wildcats in the mix for a handful of others. Elite wing Jaylen Brown, scoring guard Malik Newman and forward Thon Maker are each among those waiting to see who from the current roster stays and goes. Karl Anthony-Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein will almost certainly enter the NBA draft and Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Dakari Johnson and the Harrison twins could all join them. Only Johnson seems a coin flip bet to return. Among those who will almost certainly be back are Tyler Ulis, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress. Ulis and Briscoe will share playing time at point guard, Lee could finally inherit a greater role in the frontcourt and Poythress will likely be a key frontcourt contributor too if he regains his explosiveness after knee surgery.

4. Iowa State:
Key losses:
F Dustin Hogue, G Bryce Dejean-Jones
Key returners: G Monte Morris, F Georges Niang, F Jameel McKay, G Abdel Nader, G Matt Thomas, G Naz Long
Notable newcomers: G Deonte Burton, G Hallice Cooke
Outlook: The one silver lining to Iowa State’s stunning opening-round NCAA tournament loss to 14th-seeded UAB is that it will surely drive the Cyclones this offseason. That gives the reigning Big 12 tournament champs a good chance to be even better next season when they return every rotation player besides shooting guard Bryce Dejean-Jones and forward Dustin Hogue. Offense will undoubtedly be Iowa State’s hallmark again with jet-quick point guard Monte Morris, potential preseason All-American forward Georges Niang and blossoming big man Jameel McKay spearheading a fast-paced, free-flowing attack. Returners Naz Long and Matt Thomas and transfer guards Hallice Cooke (Oregon State) and Deonte Burton (Marquette) will also bolster the perimeter offense. What the Cyclones must improve is their defense, which surrendered the most points per game and the third most points per possession in the Big 12. Scoring in the high 70s and low 80s was typically enough to overcome that this past season, but Iowa State often couldn’t string together enough stops to win games when their transition game got bogged down and their jump shots weren’t falling.

5. Maryland
Key losses:
G/F Dez Wells, F Evan Smotrycz, G Richaud Pack
Key returners: G Melo Trimble, F Jake Layman, G Dion Wliey, G/F Jared Nickens, F Damonte Dodd, F Michal Cekovsky
Notable newcomers: C Diamond Stone, F Robert Carter, G Jaylen Brantley
Outlook: The two things Maryland needed to make the jump from good to elite happened within days of one another in late March. Elite big man recruit Diamond Stone committed to the Terps and star lead guard Melo Trimble revealed he will return to school for his sophomore year, ensuring Maryland will have one of the nation’s best inside-outside duos. The graduation of Dez Wells is certainly a blow for Maryland, but the Terps should have other complementary scorers capable of supporting Trimble and Stone. Power forward Robert Carter is a former top 100 recruit who anchored Georgia Tech’s frontcourt before transferring last spring. The presence of him and Stone would allow Jake Layman to transition back to his more natural wing position assuming he does not turn pro. Maryland had to overachieve a bit and win more than its share of close games to give Mark Turgeon a breakthrough season and finish second in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin. If Stone is as good as advertised and the newcomers and returners jell quickly, the Terps could take another step forward next season. 

6. Kansas:
Key losses:
F Kelly Oubre, F Cliff Alexander (projected to leave)
Key returners: G Frank Mason, G Wayne Selden, F Perry Ellis, G Devonte Graham, F Jamari Traylor, F Landen Lucas, G Brannen Greene G Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
Notable newcomers: F Carlton Bragg
Outlook: Thanks to the anticipated return of point guards Frank Mason and Devonte Graham and wings Wayne Selden, Brannen Greene and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kansas appears pretty loaded on the perimeter. What will determine whether the Jayhawks extend their Big 12 title streak and make a deeper NCAA tournament run next March is how they address a series of questions about their frontcourt. Will all-conference forward Perry Ellis return for his senior season? Can heralded incoming freshman Carlton Bragg make an immediate impact? Will Kansas further bolster its frontcourt by landing spring targets Stephen Zimmerman, Cheick Diallo or Thon Maker? The return of Ellis would be critical because he was Kansas’ lone low-post scoring threat this past season. Undersized forward Jamari Traylor and reserves Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson are all back too, but each are better suited for backup roles. If Ellis returns and Kansas adds another big man to its class, the Jayhawks could be poised for a special season. If Ellis unexpectedly turns pro, there will be pressure on Bragg and any other incoming freshmen to develop a college-ready low-post game quickly.

7. Gonzaga
Key losses: G Kevin Pangos, G Gary Bell, G Byron Wesley, F Angel Nunez
Key returners: F Kyle Wiltjer, F Domantas Sabonis, C Przemek Karnowski, G Silas Melson, G Josh Perkins, G Kyle Dranginis, C Ryan Edwards, G Eric McClellan
Notable newcomers: None
Outlook: Domantas Sabonis' announcement that he is returning to Gonzaga answered one of the major questions about the Zags entering the offseason. The second is whether last year’s reserve guards will be able to handle increased roles now that four-year starters Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell are graduating and fellow senior starter Byron Wesley is gone too. Josh Perkins showed flashes of ability as a pass-first point guard before suffering a season-ending broken jaw in December. Sophomore Silas Melson, senior Kyle Dranginis and Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan will likely share playing time at wing. What should help Gonzaga's guards is there won't be any pressure to carry the offense with a frontcourt the caliber of the Zags'. Sabonis intrigued NBA scouts with his athleticism, Kyle Wiltjer is as skilled as any player his size in the nation and Przemek Karnowski is a mammoth center with a strong back-to-the-basket game. That trio helped propel Gonzaga to the Elite Eight this past season for the first time under Mark Few, and it could get the Zags at least that far next season too.

8. Oklahoma
Key losses: F TaShawn Thomas, G Frank Booker
Key returners: F Ryan Spangler, G Isaiah Cousins, G Jordan Woodard, G Buddy Hield, F Khadeem Latin
Notable newcomers: C Akolda Manyang, G Christian James, G Rashard Odomes
Outlook: Will the Sooners be good enough to challenge Iowa State and Kansas for the Big 12 crown? The answer to that question probably depends on whether Big 12 player of the year Buddy Hield opts to stay in school. The projected second-round pick is still gathering information about his stock and mulling his options. A big selling point for Oklahoma has to be the amount of returning talent he’d have around him next season.  Put him on a team with returning guards Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard, returning forwards Ryan Spangler and Khadeem Lattin and a talented group of newcomers, and Oklahoma becomes a contender in the Big 12 and a threat to go even deeper than it did in this year’s NCAA tournament. Remove Hield from that group, and the Sooners more resemble a second-tier Big 12 program with a good chance to make the NCAA tournament but less hope of accomplishing something memorable.

9. Michigan State:
Key losses:
G Travis Trice, F Banden Dawson
Key returners: G/F Denzel Valentine, G LouRawls Nairn, G Javon Bess, F Marvin Clark Jr., C Matt Costello, C Gavin Schilling, G Bryn Forbes
Notable newcomers: G Eron Harris, F Deyonta Davis, G Matt McQuaid, G Kyle Ahrens
Outlook: Even though Michigan State graduates stars Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, there’s reason to believe the Spartans could enjoy a better regular season next year than this past season’s surprise Final Four team did. The optimism stems from the debut of coveted West Virginia transfer Eron Harris, the return of last year’s top recruit Javon Bess and the arrival of another potentially strong class. Harris, a slashing combo guard who averaged 17.2 points as a sophomore for the Mountaineers, should emerge as a perimeter scoring threat capable of easing the burden on returning standout Denzel Valentine. They’ll likely be joined in the starting lineup by pass-first point guard LouRawls “Tum Tum” Nairns, with Bess attacking the rim off the bench and incoming freshman Matt McQuaid providing outside shooting. Marvin Clark Jr. could be the heir apparent to Branden Dawson at power forward, while Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling both made strides last year at center. The Spartans will also welcome promising 6-foot-9 McDonald’s All-American Deyonta Davis and are considered one of the favorites to land 6-foot-8 five-star recruit Caleb Swanigan this spring.

10. Villanova
Key losses: G Dylan Ennis, G Darrun Hilliard, F JayVaughn Pinkston
Key returners: G Ryan Arcidiacono, G Phil Booth, C Daniel Ochefu, G Josh Hart, F Kris Jenkins
Notable newcomers: G Jaylen Brunson, G Donte Divincenzo, F Tim Delaney
Outlook: Three starters depart from a 33-win team that crashed out of the NCAA tournament in the round of 32, but Villanova could still be the class of the Big East again next season. Point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and center Daniel Ochefu are both expected back and the Wildcats have some wings and forwards ready to assume greater roles to help replace Darrun Hilliard, Dylan Ennis and JayVaughn Pinkston. Six-foot-5 rising junior Josh Hart, who averaged an efficient 10.1 points per game off the bench last season, should take over for Hilliard as Villanova’s top scoring threat. Joining him in the starting lineup will likely be forward Kris Jenkins and promising rising sophomore guard Phil Booth. The X factor for Villanova will be how big an impact highly touted freshman point guard Jalen Brunson is ready to make. He’ll likely start the season coming off the bench behind Arcidiacono, but his polished offensive game may demand ample playing time if he can pick up Villanova’s defensive concepts quickly enough. 

11. N.C. State
Key losses:
G Ralston Turner
Key returners: G Cat Barber, G Trevor Lacey, F Kyle Washington, F Abdul-Malik Abu, F BeeJay Anya, G Cody Martin, G Caleb Martin, F Lennard Freeman
Notable newcomers: G Terry Henderson
Outlook: If N.C. State returns to the Sweet 16 next March, it probably won’t be as a surprise team like this past season. Seven of the Wolfpack’s top eight scorers are projected to return from a 22-win team and they add a transfer who should more than make up for the loss of sharpshooter Ralston Turner. The backcourt should be N.C. State’s biggest strength again assuming point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber and high-scoring shooting guard Trevor Lacey both return as expected. Lacey led the Wolfpack in scoring at 15.7 points per game this past season and should be one of the ACC’s best players next season. Barber averaged 12.1 points per game and was a threat to create for himself or his teammates off the dribble. West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson is nearly the shooter that Turner was and is also a more versatile scoring threat. N.C. State’s frontcourt consists of role players, but Kyle Washington (scoring), BeeJay Anya (defense) and Lennard Freeman (rebounding) complement one another well. In other words, the Wolfpack will begin next season amid high expectations, something that has traditionally not always been easy for them.

12. Wichita State:
Key losses: G Tekele Cotton, F Darius Carter
Key returners: G Ron Baker, G Fred VanVleet, F Rashard Kelly, F Shaquille Morris, G/F Evan Wessel
Notable newcomers: G Conner Frankamp, F Markus McDuffie, G Landry Shamet, F Eric Hamilton, G Tyrone Taylor
Outlook: This ranking is a gamble based on the idea that Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet join Gregg Marshall in returning to Wichita State. Both are exploring their NBA stock, but Baker is unlikely to be taken in the first round and VanVleet could go undrafted altogether. If both return to join sharpshooting Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp and Rivals top 100 freshman Landry Shamet, the Shockers would again have one of the best offensive backcourts in the nation. They would be the clear favorite in the Missouri Valley Conference and a threat to make another deep NCAA tournament run. If one or both leave, Wichita State could be in jeopardy of taking a step backward next season. The perimeter scoring of VanVleet and Baker is a must for a team that loses perimeter stopper Tekele Cotton and will lack a proven low-post scorer with Darius Carter also set to graduate. Freshman center Shaq Morris is probably the heir apparent at the position after making the Valley’s All-freshman team, but he needs to improve his conditioning and strength to fully tap into his potential. 

13. Duke
Key losses:
G Quinn Cook, F Justise Winslow (projected to leave), C Jahlil Okafor (projected to leave), G Tyus Jones (projected to leave)
Key returners: G Matt Jones, G Grayson Allen, F Amile Jefferson, C Marshall Plumlee
Notable newcomers: G Luke Kennard, F Chase Jeter
Outlook: The Blue Devils team that takes the floor next November will likely bear little resemblance to the one that captured the national title on Monday night. Senior guard Quinn Cook is graduating, projected lottery picks Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow will almost certainly enter the draft and fellow freshman Tyus Jones could be tempted to join them. If Jones stays, Duke would have a great chance to still contend in the ACC and nationally. He’d be the starting point guard and leader of a perimeter corps that would also include returners Matt Jones and Grayson Allen and highly touted freshman Luke Kennard. Amile Jefferson, Marshall Plumlee, Rice transfer Sean Obi and incoming freshman Chase Jeter will all be part of next year’s frontcourt and there’s still a good chance Duke adds top prospects Brandon Ingram or Caleb Swanigan this spring. If Jones leaves, the point guard position would become a huge question mark. Allen might be best suited to fill the void unless Mike Krzyzewski adds a transfer or a late signee. Jones and Kennard are quality wings, but there still wouldn’t be much perimeter depth on that team, nor would there be any proven low-post scoring threats. Jones is projected as a late first-round pick by DraftExpress.com. He’d benefit from another year to get stronger, but it certainly wouldn’t be a shock to see him follow close friends Okafor and Winslow to the NBA.

14. Arizona
Key losses:
G T.J. McConnell, G/F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (projected to enter NBA Draft), G Stanley Johnson (projected to enter NBA Draft), F Brandon Ashley (projected to enter NBA Draft)
Key returners: C Kaleb Tarczewski (projected to return to school), G Gabe York, C Dusan Ristic, G Elliott Pitts, G Parker Jackson-Cartwright
Notable newcomers: F Ryan Anderson, G Kadeem Allen, G Allonzo Trier, G Justin Simon, F Ray Smith, F Chance Comanche
Outlook: Arizona won’t duplicate this past season’s 34 wins if it loses four or five starters to graduation or the NBA draft, but the Wildcats welcome enough talented newcomers to still contend for the Pac-12 crown. Highly touted freshmen Allonzo Trier and Justin Simon and high-scoring redshirt Kadeem Allen should immediately push returning guards Gabe York, Elliott Pitts and Parker Jackson-Cartwright for playing time. Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson is the likely starter at power forward unless Brandon Ashley unexpectedly returns to school and Chance Comanche and Dusan Ristic would vie for minutes alongside him if center Kaleb Tarczewski turns pro. Arizona’s outlook could change dramatically if a couple of this past year’s starters do return. Sean Miller was already referring to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the past tense after the team’s Elite Eight loss to Wisconsin and Ashley reportedly is leaning toward entering the draft. But Tarczewski isn’t projected as a first-round pick and potential lottery pick Stanley Johnson did not leave a good impression in the NCAA tournament.

15. Indiana:
Key losses:
G Stanford Robinson, F Max Hoetzel
Key returners: G Yogi Ferrell, G James Blackmon, F Troy Williams, C Hanner Mosquera-Perea, G Nick Zeisloft, F Emmitt Holt
Notable newcomers: C Thomas Bryant, F Juwan Morgan, F Ogugua Anunoby
Outlook: The addition of five-star big man Thomas Bryant could go a long way to shoring up the frontcourt issues that plagued Indiana this past season. The 6-foot-10 big man chose the Hoosiers over Syracuse, Kentucky and Missouri, among others, giving Tom Crean the quality interior presence he lacked last season when he had no backup plan after Noah Vonleh turned pro. The presence of Bryant could give perimeter standouts Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon and Troy Williams more reason to return to school. Bryant runs the floor well, commands defensive attention in the paint and protects the rim, all of which creates opportunities for Indiana’s talented perimeter corps at one end and eases the pressure on them defensively at the other. Should Indiana return Ferrell, Blackmon and Williams to pair with a bolstered frontcourt, the Hoosiers should be poised for a big jump after barely sneaking into the NCAA tournament this past season. They’d likely enter the season viewed as one of the top challengers to Maryland in the Big Ten title chase.

16. Butler
Key losses: G Alex Barlow, F Kameron Woods, G Jackson Aldridge
Key returners: G Kellen Dunham, F Roosevelt Jones, F Andrew Chrabascz, F Kelan Martin, F Tyler Wideman, F Austin Etherington
Notable newcomers: G Tyler Lewis, C Nate Fowler, G Sean McDermott
Outlook: Few Big East teams return a duo as talented or experienced as rising seniors Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones. Dunham averaged 16.5 points per game this past season and shot 41 percent from behind the arc as Butler won 23 games and nearly reached the Sweet 16. Jones averaged 12.7 points by aggressively attacking the rim in his return after missing the entire previous season due to injury. By the end of the season, forward Andrew Chrabascz had emerged as a capable third scoring threat, and he too is back. So is rising sophomore Kelan Martin, who flashed the potential to be a big-time scorer down the road. Butler will miss point guard Alex Barlow’s toughness and leadership and forward Kameron Woods’ defense and rebounding, but they’re pretty well-equipped to replace both. N.C. State transfer Tyler Lewis figures to inherit Barlow’s starting point guard job, while forward Tyler Wideman or incoming freshman Nate Fowler could take over for Woods. Butler will also benefit from having the same coach for back-to-back seasons for the first time in a while. In short, the Bulldogs have endured a couple years of instability and appear poised to contend for the Big East title.

17. Cincinnati:
Key losses: F Jermaine Sanders
Key returners:
F Octavius Ellis, F Shaquille Thomas, F Gary Clark, G Troy Caupain, G Farad Cobb, F Quadri Moore, C Coreontae DeBerry, G Deshaun Morman, G Kevin Johnson
Notable newcomers: G Justin Jennifer, G Justin Evans
Outlook: Whereas 23 wins and an opening-round NCAA tournament victory was a pleasant surprise from Cincinnati this past season, that will be the bare minimum expected of the Bearcats next season. Cincinnati’s top six scorers are all expected to return and the only member of the rotation departing is senior forward Jermaine Sanders, who averaged 4.6 points per game. The Bearcats will also have Mick Cronin back on the bench after he did not coach most of the 2014-15 season as a result of a non-life threatening vascular condition known as arterial dissection. This year’s Cincinnati team was a poor outside shooting squad that made up for it by attacking the offensive glass and defending with fervor. The Bearcats should again be a defensive and rebounding menace next season, but for Cincinnati to outduel SMU and UConn in the American Athletic Conference and advance deeper in the NCAA tournament, they need more offense. Rising junior guard Troy Caupain and rising sophomore forward Gary Clark might be the best suited to make big leaps next season.

18. SMU
Key losses: F Yanick Moreira, F Cannen Cunningham, G Ryan Manuel
Key returners: G Nic Moore, F Markus Kennedy, F Ben Moore, G Sterling Brown
Notable newcomers: F Semi Ojeleye, G Sedrick Barefield, G Shake Milton
Outlook: Having narrowly missed the NCAA tournament last year and suffered a heartbreaking first-round upset this past March, SMU enters the offseason still hungry for postseason success. Next season could be the year it happens for the Mustangs thanks to an intriguing combination of proven returners and talented newcomers. SMU's best returning player is combo guard Nic Moore, a volume scorer who could move off ball next season to make room for top freshman Sedrick Barefield at point guard. Sterling Brown and Ben Moore are likely to begin the season in the lineup at the forward spots, but look for Moore to give way to Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye once the former top 100 recruit becomes eligible in mid-December. While Ojeleye couldn't crack Duke's rotation behind Justise Winslow and Amile Jefferson, he should be an impact player for SMU. The last remaining starter figures to be Markus Kennedy, assuming he doesn't run into academic issues again. He'll be SMU's top low-post threat. While it could take time for the new and returning talent to mesh, SMU could be at least as good as it was this past season when it won the league and earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament. It should be a duel between the Mustangs and Cincinnati for the American Athletic Conference crown.

19. Wisconsin:
Key losses: G Josh Gassser, F Sam Dekker (projected to leave), C Frank Kaminsky, F Duje Dukan, G Traevon Jackson
Key returners:
F Nigel Hayes, G Bronson Koenig, G Zak Showalter, F Ethan Happ, F Vitto Brown
Notable newcomers: G Brevin Pritzl, F Alex Illikainen, F Charlie Thomas, F Khalil Iverson
Outlook: One of the biggest reasons Wisconsin's title game loss has to sting so much is that the Badgers aren't likely to get another championship shot anytime soon. Unless Sam Dekker unexpectedly opts to pass on NBA riches for another year, Wisconsin will lose at least five members of its seven-man rotation this offseason. The two key players expected to return are promising point guard Bronson Koenig and versatile forward Nigel Hayes, though there's a chance Hayes could turn pro too. If both those guys are back, those are two pretty good building blocks. It's unclear who Wisconsin's other starters will be, but athletic guard Zak Showalter had some nice moments off the bench late in the season and 6-foot-9 redshirt Ethan Happ looked like a future standout in practices. Is that nucleus enough for Wisconsin to crack the top 20 nationally and finish in the top four in the Big Ten? Maybe, maybe not, but as long as Bo Ryan is still coaching the Badgers, it's probably not wise to bet against them.

20. Michigan
Key losses: F Max Bielfeldt
Key returners:
G Caris LeVert, G Derrick Walton, G Zak Irvin, G Spike Albrecht, G Aubrey Dawkins, F Kameron Chatman, F Mark Donnal, F Ricky Doyle
Notable newcomers: F Moritz Wagner
Outlook: How high expectations will be for Michigan next season depend largely on whether standout shooting guard Caris LeVert returns. All signs had been pointing toward the projected late first-round pick forgoing his final year of eligibility to enter the NBA draft, but the foot injury he suffered in mid-January complicates his decision. A returning LeVert would give Michigan quite a perimeter corps. Point guard Derrick Walton Jr. will be healthy again and Zak Irvin, Spike Albrecht and rapidly blossoming Aubrey Dawkins would all be back. There’s also a chance Michigan could land elite recruit Jaylen Brown, though that’s probably only a possibility if LeVert turns pro and still a long shot even in that scenario. The frontcourt will be a bigger question for Michigan no matter what LeVert decides, but there’s reason to be optimistic. Forward Kameron Chatman and big men Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle should all be much further along after a year of playing time.

Others worthy of consideration: Notre Dame, Oregon, LSU, VCU, Purdue, Louisville, Texas A&M, Utah, Baylor, Miami, West Virginia, San Diego State, Dayton, Florida 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!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: April 7, 2015, 12:24 pm

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