New head coaches set to win immediately 

September, 16, 2014
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Frank Haith AP Photo/Jeff RobersonNew Tulsa coach Frank Haith inherits a team that won 21 games last season.
There were four coaches a year ago -- Steve Alford (UCLA), Craig Neal (New Mexico), Brad Underwood (Stephen F. Austin) and Mike Brennan (American) -- who took programs to the NCAA tournament in their first go-around with their new schools.

This year there might not be any.

Buzz Williams and Bruce Pearl, two of the consensus top hires of the offseason, both have serious work to do before Virginia Tech and Auburn, respectively, will be dancing come March. The same likely goes for Steve Wojciechowski, who replaced Williams at Marquette, and Danny Manning, who took over at Wake Forest.

Jim Christian and Boston College will struggle -- again. Tennessee could well finish in the bottom of the SEC under new coach Donnie Tyndall and Missouri likely won’t be much of a factor with rookie head man Kim Anderson. Wayne Tinkle (Oregon State) and Ernie Kent (Washington State) should battle one another for cellar dweller in the Pac-12. Doc Sadler will struggle to rebuild Southern Miss, Kelvin Sampson lost two of his top players to transfer at Houston and new South Florida head man Orlando Antigua is almost certain to finish in the bottom half of the American Athletic Conference.

That accounts for a good portion of the 47 new coaches who will take over in 2014-15.

So who are the most likely candidates to do anything of note this season in their first as head coach at a new school?
WilliamsChris Coduto/Icon SMIBuzz Williams left an established program in Marquette to build Virginia Tech into a contender.
When the rumblings began that Buzz Williams was leaving Marquette -- a program with a storied history that includes three Final Four appearances and a national championship -- for Virginia Tech, just about everyone associated with college hoops wondered whether Buzz hadn’t lost more than just the hair on his noggin.

What in the heck was he thinking?

There’s one school of thought that says Williams was concerned about the direction of the program at Marquette. If he stayed, you're dealing with the transition from the old Big East to the new Big East where the exposure is a mere shell of what it once was. Williams was worried about lofty expectations, in which his own success was as much to blame as anything, and saw the writing on the wall when he looked at the projected roster for this season. Marquette’s talent level was mediocre.

Then there’s the administration. Williams and the previous athletic director, Larry Williams, hadn’t seen eye-to-eye -- and even though Larry Williams had resigned (many will claim Buzz had something to do with that), Buzz was worried about who would be his next boss.

The options just weren’t there for Buzz -- the self-described hick from Texas who also happened to boast one of the most coveted rollover contracts in all of college basketball at Marquette. Rick Barnes is back on solid footing after a tremendous season in Austin. Billy Kennedy wasn’t reassigned, as some anticipated would be the case. Cuonzo Martin got Tennessee to the NCAA tourney, and didn’t appear to be in any danger of being fired (he later left for California).

So, Williams left for Blacksburg on March 21 -- and proceeded to floor the college basketball community.

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Hoosiers hoping for return to NCAAs 

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
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IndianaJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesIndiana head coach Tom Crean will need Yogi Ferrell to step up big time this season.
Tom Crean spent much of the 2014 offseason studying. Watching tape is far from the norm for Indiana’s coach, but the subject matter was atypical.

He studied Villanova’s small-ball style from the mid-2000s that Jay Wright made famous back when 6-foot-3 Randy Foye was essentially manning the power forward spot.

He watched tape of UConn’s national title run last season, featuring a perimeter-oriented team led by Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels.

And he examined overseas clubs that move and reverse the ball.

I’m not completely sold that Indiana will make the NCAA tournament this season (they went to the Sweet 16 the last time I said this), but I can guarantee this group will be more exciting to watch than the one that couldn’t make shots -- and didn’t even make the NIT -- last season.

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Top 25 high-impact newcomers 

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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Jahlil OkaforRich Graessle/Icon SMIDuke has a potentially great big man on the roster in Jahlil Okafor.
Kentucky has a brand-new group of freshmen, Duke has the No. 1 recruiting class in the land coming in and North Carolina also brings in a trio of talented newcomers. Louisville, Kansas, Arizona and Ohio State have also reloaded on the recruiting trail.

But newcomers also include transfers -- and as we know, the transfer wire is at an all-time high these days. Guys like DeAndre Kane, Rodney Hood, Juwan Staten, Xavier Thames and Jordan Clarkson were all transfers and made a major impact.

So I wanted to take a look at both groups when considering impact. Here are our top 25 impact newcomers for the 2014-15 college hoops campaign, with six of our top 15 coming off the transfer wire. Important: These rankings are based not necessarily on talent alone, but also on the impact that the players will have

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Building a Team USA of college stars 

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
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Marcus Paige AP Photo/Gerry BroomeIf Team USA only used amateur players, Marcus Paige would certainly be under consideration.

Just imagine if USA Basketball were to revert back to using amateurs for the Olympics and other international competitions. For those of us who've been around a little while, it doesn't seem so long ago that the original Dream Team debuted in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics after the relative disappointment of the 1988 team made up of college players. And while it doesn’t appear to be a likelihood, despite the recent Paul George injury, it's a debate that hasn't completely gone away. My colleague Jay Bilas recently noted that we shouldn't go back to the old ways, in part because our college kids could no longer beat (or even compete with) many of the international teams. I tend to agree.

But what would Team USA look like under the old rules? I decided to come up with an American-born roster full of collegians, plus one high schooler.

Two players who would have made the team but don’t hail from the United States are Oklahoma’s underrated and versatile junior guard Buddy Hield (Bahamas) and Kentucky’s talented freshman forward Karl Towns Jr., who is from the Dominican Republic.

Here’s the team:

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The deepest Kentucky team in years 

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
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Marcus LeeBob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsKentucky sophomore forward Marcus Lee is just one part of arguably the nation's top frontcourt.
My summer began with the LeBron James Skills Academy and didn’t truly end until I landed in Charleston (for a planned vacation with my wife) to the news that Cougars coach Doug Wojcik had been fired.

Along the way, there were countless AAU contests in several locations, and there were drills and games involving some of the top college players in the country. A few days also were spent at the NBA Summer League and, on TV, seeing a glimpse of a new, loaded Kentucky Wildcats team playing down in the Bahamas.

Here are my 10 college basketball takeaways from the summer, starting with that scary Kentucky team.

1. I’ve watched a decent portion of Kentucky’s games down in the Bahamas -- which were aired on ESPNU -- and this Wildcats team is the deepest I’ve seen in the past decade. It’s not just ordinary depth, either -- it’s quality, insane depth. Marcus Lee, who showed glimpses of what he could do in the NCAA tourney last year, may not find his way into the rotation. Derek Willis, who could start for at least 250 teams around the nation, is the seventh big man on the depth chart. Seventh! These guys are currently without two of their top frontline guys due to injury -- junior Willie Cauley-Stein and skilled freshman forward Trey Lyles -- and they still look deep and overwhelming.

I know the competition in two of the three games has been fairly lackluster, but the fact remains that this team doesn’t lack for much (other than a true small forward) and the difference-maker with this group is diminutive freshman point guard Tyler Ulis. Andrew Harrison was erratic with his floor game and did not set up his teammates for easy baskets nearly as often as Ulis, who also will be a pest on the defensive end due to his speed, quickness and toughness.


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Transfers should have to sit a year 

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
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Bryce Dejean-JonesEthan Miller/Getty ImagesBryce Dejean-Jones, UNLV's leading scorer last season, will play for Iowa State in 2014-15.
The last tally for the transfers is now in excess of 625 (and still climbing) since the 2013-14 season began, which is nearly triple the number from when I first began compiling the list seven years ago and nearly 100 more than last year’s total.

There were plenty of winners and losers in the process, but no one has taken a harder hit than the NCAA.

Transferring has become an issue, yet it’s hardly an epidemic. Non-student-athletes transfer at a significant rate as well, but we tend to overanalyze when it comes to college football and basketball.

Some feel as though student-athletes should be able to go wherever they want, whenever they want. Memphis coach Josh Pastner believes that the current system is not flawed and a player should be able to play immediately elsewhere, as long as the previous staff signs off on it. However, the majority of college coaches -- from Rick Pitino, Bill Self, Sean Miller and Chris Mack to many more -- believe that there should be no waivers and that everyone should have to sit regardless of the circumstance.

I’m in agreement.

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Top NBA prospects in Class of 2015 

July, 29, 2014
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Ben SimmonsCourtesy Steven RyanLSU commit Ben Simmons was arguably the most impressive high school player this summer.
I just got home from attending most of the big events in the July recruiting period -- a time where the top high school players have a chance to be seen for a dozen days in the month by all the college coaches.

NBA guys were also allowed to get a look at some of the top high school players at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas early in the month.

We talked to some NBA guys in attendance, college coaches and also used what I saw throughout the month to come up with 12 players who have high NBA potential in the Class of 2015 (eligible for the 2016 NBA draft).

1. Ben Simmons, 6-8, 220, PF, Montverde Academy (Florida)
College: LSU Tigers

He’s a long and skilled Australia native who has already committed to LSU, where his godfather, David, is an assistant coach. Simmons does everything well at this juncture -- except for make shots from beyond the arc. He’s a terrific passer, scores from the mid-range extremely well and defends at a high level. His versatility draws comparisons to a young Lamar Odom.

2. Jaylen Brown, 6-7, 220, SF, Wheeler High (Florida)
College: Undecided

Brown is a well-built power wing who plays with a high motor and also possesses a versatile game. Brown’s biggest strength right now is his ability to drive to the basket and finish around the rim, but his perimeter shot has improved significantly. He’s considering UCLA, Kentucky, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Florida and Texas.

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Thon Maker, Ben SimmonsKelly Kline/Under ArmourThon Maker & Ben Simmons could light up the college game soon -- and the NBA not long after.
The all-important July recruiting period concludes this weekend. For the last two weeks, college coaches have been flying all over the country to evaluate -- and meet -- recruits.

During this time two summers ago, Jabari Parker was out due to a foot injury, and so Andrew Wiggins solidified his spot as the No. 1 player in the country. Last year, skilled big man Jahlil Okafor cemented his hold on the top spot.

This year, the top spot was wide open heading into July. But that has changed. We reached out to more than 40 high-major head coaches and assistants and asked them this question:

"Who would you want if you could have one recruit, regardless of class and age?"

These are their answers

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Rule changes coaches want to see 

July, 17, 2014
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Frank Martin of the Kansas State Wildcats Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesSouth Carolina's Frank Martin believes the court should be widened to better suit today's game.
Just about everyone has complaints and wants changes, whether it’s at the workplace or even at home. My 10-year-old daughter wants her bedtime altered, and I’d like her to give me a quarter for every time she doesn’t listen to me.

It’s all about rules. We love some and despise others.

In college basketball, there are plenty of rules that coaches would prefer to be changed. We spoke with some of the nation’s best to get their thoughts. If they could change one rule, what would it be? There were a few answers and one clear winner, which I've saved for last.


Backcourt rule

A team must advance the ball to the frontcourt within 10 seconds of a player touching the ball in the backcourt. Many teams call a timeout, and the clock is then reset

Tad Boyle (Colorado Buffaloes): “Ten seconds in the backcourt with the ball should be continued after a timeout instead of being reset.”


Frontcourt foul

If there is a foul, the shot clock is immediately reset to 35 seconds)

Bill Self (Kansas Jayhawks): “Foul in the frontcourt not reset to 35, only about to 20. I’d also like to see the block-charge made easier to call.”


Flopping

[+] EnlargeTim Miles
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhNebraska coach Tim Miles wants rules implemented to limit flopping.
This is an area of concern at every level of basketball, especially with last year’s rule change in college basketball limiting the amount of hand checking on the perimeter, thus making it easy to draw fouls by flopping as the offensive player.

Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt Commodores): “Intentional attempts at flopping should be assessed with an unsportsmanlike conduct technical foul. That includes the dribbler who throws his head and shoulders back to bait them for a call.”

Tim Miles (Nebraska Cornhuskers): Flopping -- on both offense and defense.”

Bruce Weber (Kansas State Wildcats): “Put the jump ball back in the game. Reward defense for effort to create jump ball situation. Also, the new foul rule allows the offensive player to put his head down, get out of control and run over defense and receive a foul call.”

Tony Bennett (Virginia Cavaliers): “The flagrant foul of elbow above the shoulders.”


Post play

Perimeter play was altered last season, but some coaches want post play to be cleaned up

Scott Drew (Baylor Bears): “They adjusted how they called the perimeter last year. Now they need to address it in the post.”


Freedom of movement

Sean Miller (Arizona Wildcats): “When an offensive player pivots and swings the ball high to create space from the defender, it should not be an offensive foul. He has to have the ability to create space for freedom of movement. The way the rule is now, even if there is no contact, they can call a flagrant 1. I also feel that going to a 30-second shot clock would help the quality of the play.”


Advance the ball to half court in final two minutes

The ball is now taken out under the basket after a timeout. In the NBA, the ball is advanced to midcourt. ESPN colleague Seth Greenberg feels as though this would allow for more special situations, make time and score far more relevant and create for more exciting finishes.

Fred Hoiberg (Iowa State Cyclones): “Advance the ball after a timeout in the last two minutes.”


Charge circle

The NCAA voted on a 3-foot wide charge circle in college basketball in 2011, but it’s still closer to the basket than the NBA circle

John Groce (Illinois Fighting Illini): “I would probably say NBA charge circle instead of current college version. I played with it last year against Oregon, and I thought it promoted fewer collisions at the rim. I liked it farther out.”


Charge call

Last season, the NCAA amended its block/charge call to where a defensive player is not permitted to move into the path of an offensive player once he has begun his upward motion with the ball.

Mark Turgeon (Maryland Terrapins): “Take out the airborne player charge.”


Make the lane wider

The college lane is just 12 feet wide, while the international and NBA games feature a lane that is 16 feet wide. This is one of the areas in which Greenberg agrees the game can be improved. “By widening the lane, it would open up the floor for more cutting and also help with spacing.”

Archie Miller (Dayton Flyers): “I’d like to see the lane wider.”

Mick Cronin (Cincinnati Bearcats): “Width of the lane. That will help clean up the game and open up the court. They have it in Europe and in the NBA. Why not us?”


Make the court wider

The court is 94 feet by 50 feet and hasn’t changed.

Frank Martin (South Carolina Gamecocks): “The court needs to be wider and longer. Players are bigger, stronger and faster. Give everyone more space.”


Six fouls

College basketball’s rule is that a player fouls out on his fifth foul

Thad Matta (Ohio State Buckeyes): “The one that comes to mind for me is going to six fouls.”


No live timeouts for coaches

College coaches are allowed to call a timeout while the action is ongoing.

Mike Brey (Notre Dame Fighting Irish): “Coaches should not be able to call a timeout during a live ball.”

Shot clock

Men’s college basketball has used a 35-second shot clock since 1993, and there was a consensus among coaches that this needed to be altered. This was the No. 1 winner for most common answer.

Josh Pastner (Memphis Tigers): “Change the shot clock to 24 seconds.”

Rick Pitino (Louisville Cardinals): “It’s a tie for me. Change the shot clock to 30 seconds, and also, if there’s a 4-second call in the backcourt, that’s what you get to advance -- not 10 seconds.”

Billy Donovan (Florida Gators): “I’d like to see a shorter shot clock or being able to move the ball across half court during the last two minutes.”

Lon Kruger (Oklahoma Sooners): “Go to a 30-second shot clock.”

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Most prospect-loaded teams in CBB 

July, 16, 2014
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John Calipari, Bill SelfJohn Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Getty ImagesWith perhaps 10 future first-round picks on their 2014-15 rosters, John Calipari and Bill Self could do worse.

John Calipari has assembled quite a roster with the return of Willie Cauley-Stein and the Harrison twins. In fact, there are nine potential first-rounders on the Wildcats, making UK the runaway leader for the program with the most NBA talent.

However, it’s not quite as simple to figure out who ranks immediately behind Kentucky.

Want to know where the NBA scouts will be this season? Here’s a checklist of the top dozen teams for 2014-15 in terms of NBA

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No winners with Mudiay's departure 

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
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Emmanuel MudiayKelly Kline/Under ArmourA point guard with rare explosiveness, Emmanuel Mudiay would've helped SMU, and his own game.
Emmanuel Mudiay’s camp claims it's to provide for his family. Sources told ESPN.com the talented 6-foot-5 point guard is headed overseas instead of playing for Larry Brown at SMU due to concerns of the NCAA digging into amateurism issues.

Whatever the case, it’s a huge blow to the Mustangs. And it may not do much for Mudiay's pro prospects, either. I've gotten mixed opinions from NBA evaluators on how much this impacts stock, but what you don't hear is that the move could actually improve Mudiay's standing. "This is only going to hurt the kid," said one NBA executive. "He’ll struggle overseas like the other guys who have tried."

Perhaps more than that, not only does Mudiay miss out on greater exposure, he misses the opportunity to be coached by the great Larry Brown.

On the college hoops side, Mudiay was a likely one-and-done guy

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Marcus PaigeAP Photo/Michael DwyerNorth Carolina point guard Marcus Paige averaged 17.5 points and 4.2 assists a game last season.
No position is more critical to a team’s success than point guard. Want proof? All you had to do is watch what Shabazz Napier did in March as he led UConn to an unlikely national title. Louisville had Peyton Siva a couple of seasons ago, and Jim Calhoun had Kemba Walker in 2010.

The position isn’t what it used to be, with a new breed of scoring point guards emerging the past few years. However, there is still no shortage of quality depth at the position.

Here are a dozen of the top point guards in college hoops for 2014-15.


1. Marcus Paige, North Carolina Tar Heels

He was forced to play a significant amount of time off the ball last season due to the absence of P.J. Hairston, and he could be put in a similar situation this year with the addition of talented freshman point guard Joel Berry. Paige can play either backcourt spot, but he’s more effective with the ball in his hands.


2. Emmanuel Mudiay, Southern Methodist Mustangs

Larry Brown somehow beat Kentucky and Kansas for the strong, athletic and talented point guard, whose greatest asset is his ability to get into the paint and finish.

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Jahii CarsonEthan Miller/Getty ImagesJahii Carson, who went undrafted, would have greatly benefited from another year at Arizona State.
There were 44 early-entry NBA draft candidates this year. Nineteen were drafted in the first round, and 10 were selected in the second round. That leaves 15 who went undrafted, and a few of those were relatively anonymous, including guys like William Alston (CC of Baltimore County), Antonio Rucker (Clinton JC) and Ta’Quan Zimmerman (Thompson Rivers in Canada).

Which guys made mistakes by declaring too early? Who either received poor advice or didn’t listen to sound advice? And which players who were drafted should have waited another year?

Here are 15 players who made ill-advised decisions to leave school early for the 2014 NBA draft:

1. Jahii Carson, Arizona State Sun Devils
This one always baffled me because the athletic point guard made his intentions clear before the start of the season despite the fact that virtually no NBA evaluators had him anywhere near the first round.

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Who takes over for Jim Boeheim? 

June, 19, 2014
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Mike HopkinsNate Shron/Getty ImagesMike Hopkins has been on Jim Boeheim's staff at Syracuse for 19 years.
Mike Hopkins is expected to be Syracuse's first head coach not named Jim Boeheim since 1976 -- as long as Hopkins doesn’t bolt before the 69-year-old calls it a career. After all, will Hopkins want to wait?

Hopkins is 44 years old. He played for the Orange back when they were called the Orangemen. He has been on Boeheim’s staff for nearly two decades. Hopkins is ready, itching to run his own program, but there’s no reason to believe Boeheim is ready to hang it up anytime soon.

Hopkins could have had the Charlotte job a few years back. He was in the mix for USC a year ago, was intrigued by the Boston College opening this past April, and was also involved after Oregon State severed ties with Craig Robinson.

Hopkins has been deemed the “coach-in-waiting,” but what if he doesn’t wait? Then who becomes Boeheim’s replacement?

Looking at the branches on the Boeheim coaching tree doesn’t provide many answers. Former Iowa State head coach and ex-Boeheim assistant Wayne Morgan is out of college hoops, Tim Welsh works at ESPN, and Louis Orr was just fired at Bowling Green. Current Eastern Michigan coach Rob Murphy doesn’t have a shot.

If Hopkins isn't The Guy at Syracuse, trying to figure out who would be in charge is almost like throwing darts.

But we’re going to toss a few and do our best to handicap the field:


1. Mike Hopkins, Syracuse Orange

He’s the “coach-in-waiting” and, even if he leaves to go elsewhere, it doesn’t mean he can’t return to Syracuse when Boeheim retires.

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