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.

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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BrownRay Carlin/Icon SMILarry Brown has the Mustangs poised to make a serious run during the 2014-15 campaign.
This past season, coach Larry Brown and his SMU Mustangs won 27 games and lost to the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the finals of the NIT. This was a Mustangs team many felt deserved an opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament, but their nonconference strength of schedule cost them in the eyes of the selection committee.

The Mustangs had a number of breakthrough wins that propelled them into the national spotlight and earned them a Top 25 ranking. SMU swept the eventual national champion Connecticut Huskies and defeated Cincinnati and Memphis by double figures.

The addition of Emmanuel Mudiay, ESPN's No. 5 player in the country, made the Mustangs a fashionable preseason top-10 team and a team many felt was positioned to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

Now Mudiay is set to play overseas. And while there is no doubt that SMU will miss the 6-foot-5 point guard's ability to get in the lane and make plays, the Mustangs should still challenge for an American conference championship.

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shot clockSam Forencich/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe NBA has played with a 24-second shot clock since 1954. Could it happen in college basketball?

To many, the idea of reducing the college shot clock from 35 seconds to 24 seconds is sacrilegious. But it makes too much sense to me.

To start: a 24-second clock would be more closely aligned to the NBA, NCAA and FIBA, creating a more cohesive global game.

The NBA has been playing with a 24-second shot clock since the 1954 season. Some might argue that the NBA is able to use a shorter clock since its rosters feature the very best players in the world. But FIBA has been utilizing the shorter clock at every level of basketball too -- including in preteen play. Young FIBA players grow up with an "internal shot clock" in their mind.

With proper instruction, college basketball players would make a quick adjustment to the new rule.

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Kentucky coachesCourtesy of Kelly Kline/Under ArmourCoaches, including Orlando Antigua and John Calipari, spend most of July recruiting top prospects.
The calendar for a college basketball coach has very few windows of free time. The job is a seven-days-a-week, 12-months-a-year commitment. I remember friends asking my wife, Karen, what I did in the offseason. Her response was, “What offseason?” Though the games are over, the work just begins.

Let’s take a look at what a typical college coach goes through from April until September.

April, May and June

April is a time to finish up the current recruiting class and evaluate underclassmen. May begins strength training, individual workouts, individual player meetings, program self-evaluations, official or unofficial underclassmen visits and helping the university with its grass-roots fundraising. Often the school will have as many as 16 events for a coach to attend throughout the institution’s geographic footprint. These are full-day events that take you away from your team and family.

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My picks for the best of 2014-15 

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
Gonzaga BulldogsChristopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsPrzemek Karnowski, a 7-1 center, averaged 10.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season.
My ESPN colleagues have done a nice job of putting together teams that should be superlative in areas such as offense, defense, rebounding and passing heading into the upcoming college basketball season. All had strong selections for each of the characteristics, but they’re not the only correct answers.

What other programs are set to thrive in 2014-15? Let’s break it all down.

Offense: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Mark Few’s club had its lowest offensive efficiency rating this past season since Kenpom.com starting tracking such numbers back in 2002. The Zags finished 51st in the country in OER after 12 seasons, with an average rating of 19th. But things are about to get back to normal in Spokane.

Few’s backcourt of four-year starters, Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos, returns. Even better news is that the two are finally healthy. Pangos suffered through season-long ankle and turf toe issues last season, while Bell Jr. missed nearly a month with a broken right hand. Combined, these two have made 40 percent of their 3-point shots in nearly 1,000 attempts during their careers.

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