Up close with Texas hoops 

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
TexasHoward Smith/USA TODAY SportsTexas returns essentially its entire rotation from a team that finished 24-11 last season.
The Texas Longhorns struggled through a 2012-2013 season that saw them miss their first NCAA tournament under coach Rick Barnes since he took over in 1998. Poor team chemistry led to the exodus of his four leading scorers to professional basketball and the transfer route. Unexpectedly, last season was a turnaround year for Barnes and his young as they finished 24-11 and made their 15th NCAA appearance in 16 seasons. Things are back to normal in Austin. Texas has every key player returning to go along with a very strong freshman class, and optimism is high. After spending time watching the consensus top-15 team practice last week, here are my biggest takeaways. 1. Rick Barnes is rejuvenated

Rick Barnes and Javan Felix
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesTexas coach Rick Barnes has a team built for a long March postseason run.
With a roster constructed of two former McDonald’s All Americans -- Cameron Ridley and Myles Turner -- and a bunch of solid top-100 high school recruits, the Longhorns are back to being the type of deep, tough, blue-collar team that defined them when they were more successful. While Barnes was never bothered by the talk of being on the hot seat after the one truly down year, he was bothered by the 2012-2013 team’s selfishness and “me first” attitude and believed it was a reflection on him. Anyone who has coached a team like that dreads stepping onto the practice floor every day. But it was completely different for Barnes a year ago and it is carrying over to this season.

Kentucky confirms loaded roster 

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
Andrew Harrison, Aaron HarrisonJamie Squire/Getty ImagesSophomore guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison impressed NBA scouts at last week's draft combine.
Kentucky's NBA draft combine by all accounts was a tremendous success. It was a win-win for the program, coaches, players and pro evaluators in attendance.

Ninety scouts and 30 NBA teams got an opportunity to get a baseline look at nine prospects ranked in the top 50 in various mock drafts. The Kentucky staff provided a booklet for all personnel with a player profile that included analytic frame analysis (height with and without shoes, standing reach, hand size, wing span and body fat), strength, functional movement and the same speed and agility testing that the NBA uses in its combine. The Wildcats even purchased the same equipment to ensure the testing was not compromised.

Scouts were able to make their evaluations against similar athletes, and it’s rare for them to see so many big bodies compete in one venue. They not only got a chance to watch one practice, but three -- which is not the norm. The players were in a no-lose situation in that if they played well, they made a great first impression. If they struggled, they will have the remainder of the season to show what they can do and display improvement that teams are looking for when evaluating young prospects.

After watching in person last Friday, here are my individual player evaluations and observations from the combine.

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Top matchup nightmares for 2014-15 

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
Delon WrightAP Photo/Ben MargotUtah guard Delon Wright 15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game last season.
Welcome to the preseason edition of the 2014-15 college basketball “matchup nightmares” series. A matchup nightmare is not just a talented scorer or rebounder, but, more importantly, a player against whom it is extremely difficult to construct a game plan to stop. He does things that you cannot control as an opposing coach. His versatility makes it tough to decide what exactly you want to give and what you want to take away.

This initial list will be void of incoming freshmen, as you must earn it by getting it done in college. Instead, it’ll be comprised of players who’ve positioned themselves due to exceptional seasons last year and/or strong summer development. You’ll also notice a few under-the-radar guys from non-Power 5 conferences.

Here’s my list of the biggest matchup nightmares in college basketball today.

Delon Wright | G | Utah Utes

Wright is one of the most unique, durable and complete players in college basketball, as he impacts the game every time down the floor on both sides of the ball. He does things for which no opposing game plan can account.

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Kenneth FariedNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty ImagesUsing FIBA goaltending rules would benefit a guy like Kenneth Faried.
After watching the FIBA Basketball World Cup this past month and watching every game that Team USA played, I came away thinking that there are some FIBA rules I would love to see adopted by college basketball.

While college basketball still is popular, there are ways it can be improved and made to be even more exciting -- not just for the players but for the fans, as well. Here are some FIBA rules that I hope would garner serious consideration from college basketball’s rules makers.

The FIBA timeout rule

In FIBA play, the players cannot call a timeout. A timeout can be called only by the coach at the scorer’s table and only when the ball is dead. This creates some interesting scenarios that do not manifest themselves in a college basketball game.

In FIBA basketball, players who are stuck in a double-team situation or dive on the floor for a loose ball, unlike college basketball, cannot be bailed out by calling timeout.

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Why St. John's can win the Big East 

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
Steve LavinNate Shron/Getty ImagesSt. John's coach Steve Lavin will count on nightly production from point guard D'Angelo Harrison.
When Steve Lavin took over as head coach of St. John's in 2010, he inherited a physically and mentally mature team. He added much-needed energy and infectious enthusiasm, enough that the Red Storm became relevant again in the Big East. That initial season, the program had six wins against ranked opponents -- Duke, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Georgetown and Villanova -- and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in nine years.

Since then, however, it’s been a struggle.

Lavin battled cancer and dealt with the passing of his best friend and father, Cap. During those three years, he’s also had to manage St. John’s roster and develop his own senior class. The results might not be exactly what fans hoped for -- the Red Storm haven’t been a top-25 team since that 2010-11 season -- but make no mistake about it, they are improving.

And thanks to a senior class with more than 100 combined games of experience, I see this season’s team breaking through, competing for a Big East title and reaching the NCAA tournament.

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Future Power Rankings snubs, surprises 

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
videoESPN’s College Basketball Future Power Rankings took into consideration coaching, current talent, program power and the stability of programs. While those clearly make sense when evaluating a school's outlook in the coming seasons, I would have also liked to see facilities, conference reach, fan ownership and institutional commitment play into the equation. One interesting result of the rankings was that you clearly see a bright future for the ACC, as six different teams were listed.

But I’m shocked to see Kansas as the lone Big 12 program. Iowa State, thanks to the leadership of Fred Hoiberg, must be included. The Big Ten, which most experts believe is the top conference in America, came in second overall with four teams (Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin).

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Gonzaga could be a title contender 

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
Mark FewCary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsGonzaga coach Mark Few has arguably the most talented team in program history.
Gonzaga has a rich basketball tradition, appearing in 17 consecutive West Coast Conference finals and 17 NCAA tournaments over the past 21 years. Since 2004, the Bulldogs have earned one No. 1 seed, one No. 2 seed and two No. 3 seeds in the Big Dance. The program also has produced five first- or second-team All-Americans and a player of the year in Adam Morrison.

Much of this success has come on the back of Mark Few, the nation’s winningest active head coach (80.1 percent). But with all that he’s accomplished through 15 seasons at the helm, I believe the best is yet to come.

Here’s at look at why the 2014-15 Bulldogs may be the top team in school history -- one with a shot to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

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UNC/MarylandBob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsNorth Carolina junior guard Marcus Paige is arguably the top floor leader in the country.
It’s hard to imagine the North Carolina Tar Heels "flying under the radar," but lately when the discussion turns to the elite teams and programs heading into the 2014-15 season, you rarely hear Roy Williams’ squad mentioned. This is a program that won a national championship as recently as 2009 and, after missing the tournament in 2010, made consecutive Sweet 16 appearances in 2011 and 2012.

However, the past two seasons have been out of character for the Heels. They struggled early in 2012-13 without a true low-post scorer. Williams had to adjust Carolina’s system by going small and creating matchup problems. Last season, he had to start the season with P.J. Hairston's off-the-court situation hanging over his team. He didn't know whether the NCAA would reinstate Hairston or he would be ruled ineligible for the season. The uncertainty took its toll on the Tar Heels, and although they seemed to come together late in the season, the team eventually lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

But I believe this year will be different.

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Arizona is Final Four-caliber 

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsArizona forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is expected to see an increased role in 2014-15.
Kentucky has been the topic of conversation in college basketball during the past two weeks, but there’s a different group of Wildcats that just might be the best team in the country. Though Arizona lost its top two scorers in Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson and NBA lottery pick Aaron Gordon (who combined to account for 39 percent of the Wildcats’ points), coach Sean Miller’s team returns three starters and the best sixth man in the country in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

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Nolan Richardson and Shaka SmartGetty ImagesNolan Richardson's "40 Minutes of Hell" has greatly influenced Shaka Smart's "Havoc."
There’s a feeling in coaching that, unless you are named Henry Iba, Clair Bee, Pete Newell or a handful of others, you haven't invented anything in terms of basketball coaching strategy. Offensive strategies have come and gone for most of the last century with each defensive adjustment made to counter them, and the same can be said of defensive basketball.

That’s why -- in light of the last week’s Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts -- it’s important to remember that many of our greatest college coaches are still impacting the game long after they have retired.

Here are five Hall of Fame coaches whose style of play is being closely mirrored in today’s college basketball game with the same kind of success.

Nolan Richardson

Style of play: “40 Minutes of Hell” full-court pressure
Modern day: Shaka Smart, Virginia Commonwealth Rams

It must make Nolan Richardson happy anytime he watches VCU compete. The Rams employ a full-court pressure defensive system that is very reminiscent of the way Richardson’s teams at Tulsa and Arkansas used to play.

While Smart aptly calls his defense “Havoc,” havoc is exactly what Richardson’s teams created for unprepared opponents. Like VCU’s system, “40 Minutes of Hell” employed pressure defense all over the court with traps coming seemingly at random.

In actuality, what looked to be unorganized confusion was a series of well-organized “reads” as to when and where to set up defensive traps. Forcing turnovers, quick shots and speeding opponents up to play at a faster tempo than they would like are more of the similarities between “Havoc” and “40 Minutes of Hell.”

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Scouting Kentucky's early showcase 

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
Dakari Johnson, Alex PoythressTodd Kirkland/Icon SMIDakari Johnson and Alex Poythress both impressed this week for Kentucky in the Bahamas.
The 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats are one of the biggest and deepest teams in recent history. In their first three exhibition games in the Bahamas this past week, 10 players averaged between 19 and 21 minutes per contest. Kentucky used a platoon system that wore down their opponents. Both units ran the same systems, but had very different personalities, both offensively and defensively.

While the level of competition wasn’t necessarily elite -- two games against the Puerto Rico national team reserves and one against French professional club Champagne Chalons-Reims -- it still gave observers a glimpse into what the team could potentially look like.

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Players who deserve more hype 

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
Oklahoma State/Iowa StateNelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsIowa State forward Georges Niang averaged 16.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last season.
College basketball is a reflection of society. Everyone wants to win now. Every fan wants a bigger, quicker and faster freshman to take his school to the next level. Who is the next big thing? The reality is that for every McDonald’s All-American playing for Kentucky, Kansas and Duke, there is an under-the-radar player who is having an impact on his team and program.

Some of those players make their impact immediately, while others find it to be a process. This is at both high-major programs that consistently play on national television, and at the mid-major level. Each season there are under-recruited players who, when given the opportunity, flourish. This can be as a result of more on-court minutes, better coaching and additional time in the weight room.

While they may not all become high NBA draft selections, the following 12 players are primed for big seasons. Let’s take a look at the nation’s most underrated players.

Georges Niang | F | Iowa State Cyclones
2013-14 per game stats: 16.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists

Niang is as complete a player as there is in college. With the graduation of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim, I look for the Cyclones to use Niang at almost every position on the floor and run the offense through him.

The skilled 6-foot-7 forward can score on the block, shoot the 3-pointer and pass. He can drive the ball from the trail spot in transition and puts pressure on the defense as a ball-screener. He is a threat to roll, slip or space for the perimeter shot. An excellent isolation player, Niang does a great job moving his defender to score and does a great job throwing out of double teams. Last season he averaged 3.6 assists per game.

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Ryan BoatrightJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesRyan Boatright averaged 12.1 points and 3.4 assists last season as UConn won the national title.
Role definition is always crucial to a team’s success. A coach must explain what he needs out of each player in order for a program to reach its peak. But equally important are players who accept and understand their roles for the good of the team.

Until now, the following eight individuals helped their respective teams but weren’t necessarily the top option. However, based on varying circumstances, their role will expand this upcoming season.

Here's a look at eight players who will transition from complementary piece to potential star in 2014-15.

Ryan Boatright, senior, Connecticut Huskies

Boatright’s toughness and talent certainly belie his slight 6-foot frame, and he’s proved it for three seasons at UConn. To say he was instrumental in the Huskies’ run to the 2014 national championship is an understatement. But now he’s faced with another challenge: becoming Kevin Ollie’s key player.

Boatright shared playmaking duties with Shabazz Napier for much of his first three seasons, deferring much of the time. This season he will be asked by Ollie to take on the biggest share of the ballhandling and scoring load of his career.

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Mark TurgeonStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesMark Turgeon leads the Terrapins into their inaugural campaign in the Big Ten.
It’s difficult to imagine the ACC without founding member Maryland. The Terrapins played in some of the most memorable games in league history (for example, the 1974 ACC tournament title game against NC State) and won the national title in 2002.

Lefty Driesell set out to make the Maryland the UCLA of the East when he took over in 1969. He created Midnight Madness and made Cole Fieldhouse one of the toughest venues in all of college basketball. Gary Williams transitioned the program through the NCAA sanctions he inherited and made consecutive trips to the Final Four, as well as leading the program to 14 NCAA tournament berths, two trips to the Elite Eight and seven Sweet 16 appearances in 22 years in College Park.

As Maryland moves to the Big Ten under head coach Mark Turgeon, it comes off three consecutive seasons with no NCAA tournament appearances. The Terrapins also had had five players leave the program this past spring. Despite this, I feel they have turned the corner and are in position to finish in the upper half of the new conference

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Domantas SabonisRodolfo Molina/EB via Getty ImagesDomantas Sabonis, son of Arvydas, has his sights set on NCAA hoops this season.
Emmanuel Mudiay, ESPN’s No. 5 recruit in the Class of 2014, was born in the Congo, raised in Dallas and will play next season in China. While he’s not an “international” player -- based on the fact that he built his reputation in the United States -- his travels underscore the point that talent can develop pretty much anywhere. There were 13 international players selected in the most recent NBA draft, and a plethora of young international players will be playing college basketball this season.

With the basketball globe continuing to grow smaller, here are nine players from around the world you need to know about now and in the future.

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Ukraine | 2014-15 team: Kansas Jayhawks

Mykhailiuk appeared on the scene as a late replacement for the Hoop Summit World Team in April, and although he played limited minutes in the game against Team USA, his performances in the practice sessions were impressive enough to alert a number of top programs, including the Jayhawks.

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