College Basketball Nation: Michigan State Spartans


It wouldn't have been an upset. Not in Storrs, Connecticut. Not with Texas guard Isaiah Taylor still sidelined by a wrist injury. Not with Ryan Boatright running the show. At home, under these conditions, the Huskies had at least a 50-50 chance against the No. 7 team in the country Sunday, and maybe better than that. They were never really underdogs.

For most of that game's final 12 minutes, the Huskies looked like outright favorites. The defending national champions were going to slide into one of those casual, gradual, by-the-numbers Sunday afternoon home victories, the kind you can sense even when the outcome is mathematically in doubt. Not a blowout, but not as close as the score. Late fouls and desperation heaves and game-sealing free throws coming in almost preordained sequence. Time to flip back to football.

Texas was 4.4 seconds from finishing the aforementioned sequence, scrambling through yet another disjointed, fruitless offensive possession, when Rick Barnes called a timeout. What was supposed to happen next? A well-defended inbounds play, a defensive rebound, some UConn free throws. What actually happened: Boatright got tangled up on a sideline flare screen, suddenly leaving Texas forward Jonathan Holmes in miles of space on the baseline corner. Holmes almost leaned in to his 3, like he knew he short-armed it, but it splashed anyway.

UConn never got another shot, and the Longhorns left Gampel Pavilion with a 55-54 victory that was anything but routine.

The same might be said of the day's hoops slate more generally: While you were preoccupied with the NFL, we were treated to a raucous little afternoon of hoops.

To wit: Right as Holmes and Texas were stunning Gampel into silence, Kansas and Michigan State were scrapping in the final of the Orlando Classic. This was not, as play-by-play crew Jon Sciambi and Dick Vitale were happy to point out, a pretty game. Neither team broke the point-per-possession barrier. Kansas shot 37.2 percent from the field (including 3-of-14 from 3); Michigan State shot 32.2 percent (including 13-of-42 from 2). But it was a good game all the same, full of hard-fought rebounding battles and tight defensive rotations, and it wasn't truly decided until the final minute.

That's when Michigan State, which had struggled to score for much of the game, unveiled some of its worst possessions of the season. Some credit is due to Kansas' defense, which hedged every screen hard, and Branden Dawson did get clear of his defender on a post flash that would have cut Kansas' lead to 1 only to miss the layup (and the putback, too). But there were also too many possessions in which the Spartans -- particularly Travis Trice, who finished 3-of-14 -- floated aimlessly on the perimeter before launching an ill-advised jump shot.

This is the Spartans' chief offensive problem: If they don't make shots, they struggle to score. That sounds reductive. It's really just simple. Michigan State entered Sunday shooting 43.0 percent from 3-point range and 57.2 percent from inside the arc, traits that masked their high turnover rate and infrequent trips to the foul line. If that shooting goes away, so does much of the Spartans' offense. And Sunday, against a Kansas team that might not need to shoot the ball well to win, MSU's accuracy went away.

In previewing Sunday's action, we joked that Kansas-Michigan State was something of a Champions Classic consolation round. In their first big tests, both the Jayhawks and the Spartans were roundly dismissed by Kentucky and Duke, although Michigan State put up a vastly better fight. Now, seeing the two struggle against each other felt suggestive: Neither looks close to national title contention at this point in the season.

For further proof, and right on cue, you could flip to ESPN2, where Kentucky was utterly dismantling Providence.

[+] EnlargeWillie Cauley-Stein
AP Photo/James CrispWillie Cauley-Stein and Kentucky busted out of their cage in the second half against Providence.
That wasn't the case all game, mind you. In fact, the Friars played Kentucky close throughout the first 20 minutes and some distance into the second. Ed Cooley's plan to milk every possession for as long as possible worked for the most part, forcing Kentucky into a settled, half-court game. At halftime, the score was 26-22. The Wildcats weren't getting easy buckets, but they weren't going crazy, either. At the under-12 timeout in the second half, UK led 35-29. Cooley must have felt great.

That was precisely the point at which Kentucky went nuts. The official play-by-play log from the next two minutes is hilarious: block, rebound, missed jumper, offensive rebound, tip-in, steal, missed layup, offensive rebound, missed layup, offensive rebound, missed layup, offensive rebound, made jumper. Providence turnover, Devin Booker 3. Providence miss, UK layup. In exactly two minutes and 10 seconds of elapsed game time, Kentucky extended its lead to 14 while Providence barely registered a touch. The Friars scored just nine points in the final 10 minutes of the game.

Remember the scene in "Jurassic Park" where the park guards are holding the cage door back against the velociraptors? "Shoot her! SHOOT HER!" (Of course you remember. That scene is incredible.) For the first 30 minutes, Providence was those guards. The goal was to keep Kentucky restrained, keep it from playing a normal Kentucky basketball game, and it worked, even if the Friars would have lost that game, too. But then Kentucky brute-forced its way out of that door and uncoiled that beautiful and terrifying attack.

No team in the country has been as impressive as Kentucky to start the season. But other than Duke and Louisville and (maybe) Wisconsin, Texas looks like the next-closest thing. The Longhorns have thrived despite the wrist injury that Taylor, their starting point guard, suffered in a Nov. 20 victory over Iowa, thanks to three things: defense, size and Jonathan Holmes. In hindsight, maybe the Hawkeyes and Cal weren't the most daunting opponents, but the ease with which Texas rolled them was still impressive. Now the Longhorns have one of the best true nonconference road victories of any team thus far this season.

Texas is tall, talented and multifaceted. On Friday, they travel to Lexington, Kentucky, to take on the aforementioned Wildcats. Expecting them to win in Rupp Arena is silly. But if any team can pull it off right now -- if any team can push the Wildcats out of their usual routine, and then do just enough to win the game at the end -- well, why wouldn't it be Texas?
Last week, Tom Izzo shut the game down when he dressed up like a member of KISS to kick off Michigan State’s Midnight Madness festivities.

Somehow, Izzo’s efforts topped the rest, even though John Calipari brought Drake to Lexington, Josh Pastner called his pal Rick Ross, Bill Self wore Andrew Wiggins’ jazzy NBA Draft jacket and Tubby Smith crashed a motorcycle in Lubbock during similar events.

Now, you can own Izzo’s autographed KISS uniform and the accompanying KISS sign through the school’s online auction, Michigan State announced on Wednesday. The auction ends Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. ET. The bidding starts at $500 for the outfit and $250 for the sign.

At 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday, there weren't any bids on the outfit and only one person had bid on the sign.



Too bad it won’t be available in time for Halloween. Sorry, Jeff Goodman. But it seems perfect for Halloween 2015 and beyond.

Per team spokesman Matt Larson, proceeds from the auction will go to MSU athletics. But hopefully some of the cash will be used to fund an Izzo-Snoop Dogg collaboration for next year’s Midnight Madness. One can dream.

3-point shot: Kentucky loading up

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
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Andy Katz discusses Kentucky's aggressive scheduling, Doug Wojcik's job status, and the current top coaching trio.
video Editor's note: Over five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today we unveil No. 3: Michigan State's Tom Izzo. On Thursday, we will release No. 2 and No. 1.

Typically, time and distance confer a sense of inevitability. The further we get from March and April, the more the team that won the national title was always going to win the national title, no matter how unlikely it was at the time.

In the case of the 2014 Connecticut Huskies, the opposite is true. At the time, UConn was impressive but not really shocking; even as a No. 7 seed, they never felt like impossible underdogs. They were still UConn, after all. The threat was always acknowledged. Now, though, three months' distance somehow affords us a wider, fuller view. And really, the whole thing is startling.

Consider it. In six straight games, UConn survived red-hot St. Joe's; handled four-loss, No. 2-seeded Villanova; outlasted hobbled but dangerous No. 3-seed Iowa State; knocked out a Michigan State team that was seeded No. 4; smothered clear, overall favorite Florida in the Final Four; and somehow managed to down obscenely talented, suddenly indestructible Kentucky, which had downed Wichita State, Michigan, Louisville and Wisconsin en route to the final.

The turning point -- the point at which UConn morphed from a dangerous early-round upstart into a genuine national title threat -- was its game against Michigan State.

To many, this author included, it was inconceivable that the Spartans would miss the Final Four. They had everything on their side: Talent, experience, size, and finally, after an injury-plagued Big Ten campaign, health.

More than anything, though, they had Tom Izzo.

To continue reading this story, click here.

3-point shot: Izzo's optimism

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
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In today's 3-point shot, Andy Katz reports on Michigan State's offseason and Tom Izzo's optimism, Izzo's preference to schedule games against military academies and how Georgia State is building its team.
Editor's note: During the next five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball, as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today we unveil No. 13: VCU's Shaka Smart. On Thursday, we release No. 12.

It begins again each year. Ed McLaughlin anticipates the frenzy that will commence once Virginia Commonwealth’s season ends.

Powerful programs will contact Shaka Smart -- the courtesy calls between athletic directors is a practice of the past -- and attempt to lure the 37-year-old coach to a school with more money in the bank and more eyeballs locked onto their teams via lucrative TV deals.

[+] EnlargeTreveon Graham, Ed McLaughlin
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsAD Ed McLaughlin, right, is focused on making VCU a good program, not on the other schools that come after head coach Shaka Smart.
It’s never a pleasant moment for McLaughlin, VCU’s athletics director -- or his colleagues in similar positions -- who must deal with the courtship of his program’s young leader. But he endures it with the knowledge that his school has unique advantages.

“[Smart] really feels like he can win here,” McLaughlin said. “I know we've invested a lot. … I'm with him every day. That relationship is so important.”

The postseason pursuit of rising stars and proven veterans on the collegiate coaching circuit is often viewed as a one-sided effort. Some major-conference college or NBA franchise promises a multimillion-dollar contract and an opportunity to work with the best players in the country. The employers who await their decisions often seem slighted within the conversation and powerless in the process. But many have channeled their inner Joni Mitchell and reminded tempted coaches about the things they'd leave behind.

Jamie Pollard, athletics director at Iowa State, doesn't want to lose Fred Hoiberg. Pollard also knows, however, that Hoiberg won’t find an NBA city that will show him the love that Ames, his hometown, does all year. And what pro team will match his 10-year contract? Eric Sexton understands that Gregg Marshall will be courted. That's why Wichita State's AD puts Marshall's team on charters to games and continues to increase his pay (Marshall makes $1.75 million). Everything about Marshall's gig is high-major.

A few months ago, Tennessee reportedly chased Louisiana Tech's Michael White. But the school's commitment to White and the program -- the university recently converted an old gym into a practice facility -- made it hard to leave for Knoxville, especially after a 29-win season suggested that the Bulldogs could snatch their first NCAA tourney bid since 1991 nine months from now.

“The reality is that the money is at such a different level [for some high-major jobs] that at some point, you can't compete,” said Tommy McClelland, Louisiana Tech's athletics director. “But we want him to be here. He's wanted. He's truly wanted here. There's something to be said about being wanted.”

Added White: “I've had some tough decisions to make but as we all know, the grass isn't always greener on the other side.”

Money in the NBA is plenty green, and both the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers wanted Tom Izzo. Michigan State AD Mark Hollis couldn't compete with the money. But the NBA can't match Izzo's relationships on the East Lansing campus.

That's why the underdogs have won so many fights for top candidates.

“It's really about having a vision for having the first-class student-athlete experience and providing coaches with all of the tools that they need, from their perspective, to accomplish what they want to do in an environment that is conducive to them being successful,” Sexton said. “That's what we want to do is provide as many tools as we can, understanding that we're not a BCS school … [but] most of our coaches would say they want for very little.”

Every season, McLaughlin deals with rumors about Smart. But rather than stress, he focuses on the efforts that VCU has made to keep him in Richmond.

Last year, Smart rejected UCLA's overtures, even though the Bruins, it seems, have everything that any college coach would crave.

You can recruit in one of America's richest talent pools. You have access to a strong fan base and a collection of wealthy boosters. Big salaries and an even bigger spotlight. But Smart said no -- or yes, depending on your perspective.

McLaughlin views Smart's choice to stay as an affirmation of the assets he has at VCU. Under Smart, the Rams have gone from mid-major player to perennial Atlantic 10 contender with solid national TV exposure and a fleet of high-level recruits. In March, the school announced plans for a 60,000-square foot practice facility with a $25 million price tag.

“It shows [Smart] how invested we are,” McLaughlin said.

And they must be. Facility upgrades are no longer luxuries. Schools without them are missing a key element that affects both the team and its recruiting efforts.

[+] EnlargeFred Hoiberg
Reese Strickland/USA TODAY SportsFred Hoiberg will continue to draw NBA interest, but his stature in Ames won't be matched in any NBA city.
Iowa State turned to the Sukup family, which runs the largest family-owned grain bin manufacturing company in the world, when it wanted a practice facility. Steve Sukup said his family recognized the value of the $8 million facility, which is called the Sukup Basketball Complex, and wanted to give the Cyclones a proper headquarters. Plus, they want to keep Hoiberg.

“To be able to keep a coach of that class and recruit athletes, you're going to have to have a facility that matches what he needs to get it done,” Sukup said.

Hoiberg has fans that fill Hilton Coliseum every winter and open their wallets when necessary. He's the most popular man in town and he recently received a $600,000 raise -- more than the university's president makes in a year -- as part of a 10-year deal. Pollard, however, isn't foolish. He believes, like everyone else, that Hoiberg will ultimately leave Ames to take an NBA job. Right now, he just wants to make sure his coach has everything he wants and needs.

“Do I think he would coach in the NBA? I think yes, at some point he will,” Pollard said. “Just look at how he runs our team. He runs it like it's an NBA team. I think he's wired to do that but at this stage in his life with his young kids and his family situation, I think he's in the right place for him personally at this point and time. So I don't spend a lot of time worrying about it.”

Izzo is in a similar situation in East Lansing. He's just the second head coach that the program has had since 1976. Signs of the adoration that Spartans supporters have for Izzo? Take your pick. There was the pep rally in a Detroit mall that was packed with Spartans fans prior to a 2009 Final Four run. And the news conference when Izzo chose to stay at MSU after he was entertained by the Cleveland Cavaliers a few years ago turned into more of a celebration.

Hollis knows that Michigan State can't keep Izzo from the NBA if it's just about money. But it's about much more for Izzo.

“In college, a coach has the potential to have a bigger impact on individuals than you do in pro ball,” said Hollis, who was Izzo's college roommate. “That's something that drives him. The college game is better suited for that type of personality. … Tom is remarkable at pushing and loving at the same time. That's a trait that's very good for college basketball.”

They are not nave. They know that they can't stop destiny. If a coach really wants another job, he'll take it. There's not much they can do about that.

But they can continue to build their respective programs and make their decision more difficult.

“It certainly makes the week after the NCAA tournament,” McLaughlin said, “busy.”

3-point shot: Myles Turner's big week

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
2:30
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Myles Turner's opportunity, Danny Manning and the U-18 team and Michigan State's schedule are in the latest edition of Andy Katz's 3-point shot.
On Thursday, the NBA draft combine offered a revealing portrait of the college game’s great deception.

If we’re going to talk about shot clocks, block-charge rules and timeouts, then this must be addressed in the coming years, too.

[+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDoug McDermott, who was listed at 6-foot-8 at Creighton, dropped to 6-6 at the NBA draft combine.
I’m talking about heights. True heights.

Throughout the day, ESPN’s Chad Ford tweeted some interesting measurements (in socks) of NBA prospects who were taller in college.

Aaron Gordon, listed at 6-foot-9 during his time at Arizona, was 6-7 at the combine. Former Kentucky star Julius Randle was 6-9 in college, too. After Thursday’s official measurement, he’s down to 6-7.

Doug McDermott, the former Creighton star who won every meaningful national player-of-the-year honor in college, dropped from 6-8 to 6-6. Gary Harris, a 6-4 shooting guard at Michigan State, is 6-2.

I stood next to Marcus Smart when I interviewed him in Kansas City prior to the 2013-14 season. He looked 6-4ish to me. Then again, everyone looks 6-4ish when you’re 5-9 (5-10 in shoes). Smart, who will still be one of the first guards taken in next month’s NBA draft, was measured at 6-2.

Now, it’s important to note, again, that these players were all measured in socks. And you usually play basketball in shoes. Usually. (Ask Nik Stauskas to explain.) That’s why they were measured in shoes, too.

So the minor adjustment won’t be detrimental for most of these guys, especially since their freakish wingspans and athleticism will be included on their résumés, too. For others, however, it might lead to a fall in the draft. But this can all be avoided if college coaches will just give us the real heights from the beginning. Not the height that you desire. Not the “eyeball test” height. And no, players can’t tell you how tall they are. That’s not allowed, either.

But we know this happens. And we know why. Coaches want to help the player. A 6-4 combo guard, on paper, is more appealing than a 6-2 combo guard. The problem is that we always, eventually, discover the truth. It’s called the Charles Barkley factor. When Barkley played, many figured he was 6-8 or something. “They lie,” he told the New York Times in 2008. “I’ve been measured at 6-5, 6-4. But I started in college at 6-6.”

Arizona State’s Herb Sendek dealt with this issue when NBA folks were inquiring about former Sun Devils star James Harden.

From the Arizona Republic’s Paola Boivin:
Earl Boykins, meanwhile, called himself 5-8 coming out of high school because he feared his true height of 5-5 would scare away colleges.

This fudging at the NBA predraft camps wasn't too bad this year, although some truth-stretching did occur. DeJuan Blair, who Pittsburgh always listed as 6-7, [checked] in at 6-5 1/4 - 6-6 1/2 with shoes.

Arizona State's James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph were true to their measurements, and that's very much a Herb Sendek thing. When the coach arrived in Tempe, he insisted measurements come straight from the strength-and-conditioning coach.

When one player came in at 6-2 1/4 and groaned about not being listed at 6-3, a team liaison came to Sendek, unsure how to handle it.

"What do I tell him?" he said.

"Grow," Sendek deadpanned.

You can’t blame this on college coaches alone, though. This starts before college. Sometimes this starts before high school.

There’s always an AAU coach claiming that he has some 6-7 eighth-grader who could be the next LeBron. (Just search for “The Next LeBron” on YouTube.) Then you show up only to learn that the kid is barely 6-4 and must resemble some other dude named LeBron because he’s nothing like the LeBron you thought that coach was referencing.

My middle school squad played a team that supposedly had a 6-8 center. I went to high school and played with this 6-8 center. He never grew taller than 6-5.

It’s time for change and uniformity.

To make this work, big men have to contribute, too.

It’s OK to be 6-11 or even, gasp, 7 feet tall. If you can really shoot and score and dribble and penetrate, coaches will let you do those things at the next level. But the Kevin Garnett factor -- Garnett was always listed at 6-11 although most assume he’s over 7 feet tall -- encourages young big men to suppress their true measurements for fear of assuming forced roles in the paint. So at some point, they stop growing or they get smaller.

Point guards and wings always grow. They never stop growing. That’s why we have so many combo guards today.

But since we’re eventually going to find out how tall you really are, why not reveal that in college? Let’s measure everyone in socks and publish official heights early. Everyone. That’ll limit the pre-draft surprises.

Then again, it’s probably easier to buy thicker socks once the combine arrives.

Position battles: Point guards

May, 12, 2014
May 12
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Some of the best 1-on-1 matchups will take place before the 2014-15 season tips off. They will come in the form of position battles within a team to determine a starter, which will in some cases shape an entire lineup.

Starting with point guard, ESPN.com will examine those quiet battles on a position-by-position basis this week while also promising we will never use the phrase "iron sharpens iron" to describe the competition.

In places such as Michigan State, the chance to replace a graduating senior was anticipated and planned. In places such as Oklahoma State, the vacancy opened up unexpectedly. The job was likely going to Stevie Clark, but his February dismissal means the Cowboys will rely on freshman Tyree Griffin or junior college transfer Jeff Newberry. And in many cases, the position comes down to choosing between a returnee or a talented newcomer.

Unlike other sports, even the players who lose their respective battles will still have a chance to shine. But winning could be the difference between a starring role and being a footnote.

Here are point guard battles to keep an eye on:


Duke: Quinn Cook vs. Tyus Jones

Cook too often allowed his overall game to be shaped by his makes and misses and was replaced in the starting lineup the final 10 games of the season by Rasheed Sulaimon. Jones’ arrival in the Blue Devils heralded recruiting class means Sulaimon can move back to his natural position off the ball and sets up this showdown. Jones was rated No. 4 overall and the top point guard in the 2014 class by ESPN.com. Praised for his court vision and ability to run a team, Jones is arguably the better facilitator. Cook is a much better defender who has the added advantage of knowing the system.

SMU: Nic Moore vs. Emmanuel Mudiay

Moore had a solid year for the Mustangs leading the team in scoring, assists and 3-point shooting while starting every game. He was first team all-conference in the American. Yet here comes Mudiay, who might be the most important recruit -- he’s certainly the highest ranked -- in SMU history. The 6-foot-5 Mudiay was ranked fifth overall by ESPN.com, and his time in Dallas could be limited to one season before he’s in the NBA. Point guard is the toughest position to play under coach Larry Brown, and Moore has had the luxury of learning his expectations for two years. Mudiay’s talent is so undeniable that the Mustangs might find a way to play both in the lineup.

Kansas: Frank Mason vs. Conner Frankamp vs. Devonte Graham

Naadir Tharpe’s decision to transfer opened up what was already a position begging to be solidified. The Jayhawks haven’t had stability at point guard in two seasons and it threatens what could again be a top-10 team. Mason was third on the team in assists as a freshman and briefly supplanted Tharpe in the starting lineup. Frankamp, also a rising sophomore, played in enough games as a freshman to season him for extended time this season. Graham just signed this month out of prep school, but is considered a true playmaker.

Michigan State: Travis Trice vs. Lourawls Nairn

Trice proved his value at point guard running the Spartans when Keith Appling was sidelined by injury this past season. If Nairn shows the ability to play right away, the two could likely be used in the same lineup with Denzel Valentine at small forward and Branden Dawson at power forward. Should coach Tom Izzo opt for Valentine at shooting guard, Trice would probably be the starter at point. Nairn, a 5-foot-10 freshman, will have to develop his perimeter shooting, but his toughness and leadership skills already mesh into the Izzo mold.

Wisconsin: Traevon Jackson vs. Bronson Koenig

It seems absurd that Jackson, a rising senior who started every game on a Final Four team, could see his minutes diminished by a reserve, but it speaks to Koenig's great potential. Jackson showed a penchant for making the big shot. Koenig is arguably the better scorer with his ability to get to the rim. The rising sophomore proved he’s ready for a bigger role during the Badgers’ loss to Kentucky in the national semifinals. Entrusted to run the team with Jackson in foul trouble, Koenig scored 11 points in 16 minutes during the first half.

Syracuse: Kaleb Joseph vs. Michael Gbinije

Coach Jim Boeheim has proven the past two seasons that he’s unafraid to play an untested point guard. As he did with Michael Carter-Williams two seasons ago and Tyler Ennis this past season, Boeheim could again put the ball in the hands of a player with little point guard experience in his system. Gbinije, a 6-foot-7 junior, filled in at times for Ennis, although he’s more of a combo guard than a point. Joseph, a true freshman, will be a part of the guard rotation that includes shooting guard Trevor Cooney. Don’t be surprised if Joseph ends up like Ennis in the starting lineup early.

Memphis: Rashawn Powell vs. Dominic Magee

It’s been a while since Memphis didn’t have an heir awaiting the starting duties at point guard. Coach Josh Pastner looks to replace five senior guards with a three freshmen who can all play point. Powell and Magee are the likely front-runners as pure point guards. Powell is as much of a wild card as the true freshman Magee. He didn’t qualify last season and was not allowed to practice, but was enrolled in school. Pastner will have a third option in Markell Crawford, who redshirted last season, who has the leadership skills to step in and run the team.

North Carolina: Nate Britt vs. Joel Berry

Thank Kendall Marshall for this battle. Marshall’s injury in the 2012 NCAA tournament sabotaged a team built for a national title run, and coach Roy Williams vowed he’d never be in that position again. In past years, Williams probably would not have added a point guard in this class considering Marcus Paige will ultimately run the show. This battle won’t be as detrimental to team success as others, but is intriguing nonetheless. Berry, the freshman, will challenge Britt, the sophomore, and the time-old notion in Chapel Hill that seniority wins out.
This week, ESPN.com will feature a position-by-position look at players to watch for the 2014-15 season.

In 2003, a young man from Akron, Ohio, excelled during his rookie season in the NBA (20.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.6 SPG) and crushed philosophies about specific roles and positions in 21st century basketball. Stat hub basketball-reference.com lists LeBron James as a shooting guard his first season, a small forward the next eight years and a power forward from 2012 to the present. That might be a typo. But James does everything. He pushes the ball, he flows in the midrange, he rebounds, he posts up and he guards wings and big men. What can’t he do?

[+] EnlargeRondae Hollis-Jefferson
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesWith several departures, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could be the focal point of Arizona's team next season.
At this level, there is a pool of “small forwards” who idolize the icon, and have expanded their games beyond the traditional descriptions of what a small forward should be and instead focused on what it could be. The college game, much like the pros, has been seized by lengthy forwards who demonstrate dexterity in everything they do. The elite small forwards play multiple slots and they’re often asked to stretch on defense, too. Guard/forward or combo forward is probably more accurate than small forward. Simply put, the following players are not one-dimensional:

Top returnees to watch

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona: As a reserve and occasional starter in the final weeks of the season, Hollis-Jefferson blossomed on one of the most talented rosters in the country. And that’s not easy to do, especially for a freshman. He averaged 9.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 1.1 BPG in just 25.3 MPG. He also accrued a 113.1 offensive rating. He’ll be even more pivotal for the Wildcats next season, now that Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson have departed. The NBA prospect has All-America ability.

Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: With the key pieces returning from Bo Ryan’s first Final Four team, the Badgers will compete for the national championship in 2014-15, and Dekker is a significant component in the quest. The 6-foot-8 NBA prospect had a solid sophomore season, when he logged more minutes (29.8 MPG compared to 22.3 as a freshman) and improved his defense. His 3-point shooting numbers were down in 2013-14 (33 percent compared to 39 as a freshman), but Dekker also finished with 12.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG and 1.4 APG in a system that demands balance. Next season, Dekker could take the next step as he continues to evolve into an elite talent.

Treveon Graham, VCU: As a junior, Graham earned first-team all-Atlantic 10 honors last season after averaging 15.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG and 2.0 APG. Even though the Rams lost Rob Brandenberg and Juvonte Reddic, this will be Shaka Smart’s most talented VCU squad. It will also be Smart’s deepest VCU squad now that he has added the top recruiting class of his tenure. There were offensive issues all season for a program that averaged 75.4 PPG but finished 107th in adjusted offensive efficiency (per Ken Pomeroy), but Graham, the team’s top scorer, wasn’t the issue. He ended the year with a 111.2 offensive rating, No. 1 among A-10 players with a minimum 24 percent usage rate (per Pomeroy).

Branden Dawson, Michigan State: Dawson considered the NBA but ultimately returned to East Lansing, where he’ll be Michigan State’s featured act next season. The forward missed nearly a month of action last season with a hand injury, but he found a rhythm shortly after he returned. He wasn’t as effective as he could have been in Michigan State’s loss to Connecticut in the Elite Eight (1-for-3, five points, eight rebounds). But in the six previous games, he averaged 17.5 PPG and 8.1 RPG. If he brings that game into 2014-15, the Spartans will still be viable contenders in the Big Ten, despite losing Adreian Payne and Gary Harris.

Anthony Drmic, Boise State: The Broncos did not meet expectations last season. Although the anchors of an NCAA tourney squad, Drmic and Derrick Marks, returned to Leon Rice’s program, Boise State failed to earn a bid to the Big Dance. But Drmic and Marks are back again. And in a Mountain West that has absorbed many blows since the conclusion of the 2014-15 campaign, Drmic (111.2 offensive rating) could lead the Broncos back to March Madness, especially if he duplicates last season’s impressive numbers (15.9 PPG, 34 percent from the 3-point line).

Top newcomers to watch

[+] EnlargeJustise Winslow
Chris Williams/Icon SMIJustise Winslow isn't the highest-rated recruit in Duke's loaded class, but he could be the most important.
Justise Winslow, Duke: Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker are gone. Winslow, a 6-6 McDonald’s All-American from Texas, will help the program fill that void. The Blue Devils have ESPN RecruitingNation’s top recruiting class, which includes Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Grayson Allen, but Winslow might be the most significant recruit in that foursome considering what the program has lost.

Stanley Johnson, Arizona: One day, Johnson will explain how he and his 6-6, 225-pound NFL tight end frame found their way to a basketball court instead of a football field. This freshman is built like Colossus. He’s a physical player who embarrassed the boys in high school who tried to contain him. Things won’t be that easy at the college level, but Johnson, the No. 7 recruit in the 2014 class, will play early and often for Sean Miller.

Theo Pinson, North Carolina: Maybe he’ll end up playing more of a true wing role, but the 6-6 small forward is the type of explosive athlete that Roy Williams will need to compete in a conference that will add Louisville next season. Pinson, the No. 10 recruit in the 2014 recruiting class per RecruitingNation, is a fearless youngster who could crack the Tar Heels’ starting rotation early.

Kelly Oubre, Kansas: Andrew Wiggins is gone, but Oubre, a McDonald’s All-American, could be the next one-and-done small forward at Kansas.

For the third time since the ACC/Big Ten Challenge began in 1999, more teams have been added to the mix. The battle for conference supremacy started with just nine games deciding the outcome back when that was the extent of ACC membership.

The league has ballooned to 15 teams and now that the Big Ten expanded too, a slate of 14 games over three consecutive nights from Dec. 1-3 will determine bragging rights.

The ACC was 6-0 when just nine teams played in the Challenge. It was 4-2 after ACC expansion and 11 teams played. Since going to 12 teams the Big Ten won once and the Challenge has ended in consecutive ties.

The ACC still holds an advantage winning 10 of the 15 meetings overall, but it has not won the Challenge since 2008.

Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) will make their respective debuts in the Challenge this season. Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech did not participate last season for the ACC. Boston College will sit this one out this season.

As Maryland changes allegiances from ACC charter member to Big Ten expansion team, it becomes the Big Ten team with the most wins. The Terrapins have participated in every challenge and has a 10-5 record, and trails only Duke (13) for most Challenge wins. Five Big Ten teams (Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin) are tied with seven wins in the series.

From top to bottom, here are the best matchups of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge:

1. Duke at Wisconsin: It just might be an early Final Four preview. On paper, both have the rosters that could be playing the final weekend of the season. The Badgers, led by center Frank Kaminsky, return most of the rotation that got Bo Ryan to his first Final Four during his Wisconsin tenure. Duke restocks with the No. 1 recruiting class led by center Jahlil Okafor and guard Tyus Jones. The Blue Devils were 0-4 versus top 10 teams away from home last season in a year that ended with a NCAA second round flameout against Mercer. Wisconsin will be an early test to see if Duke will write a different narrative this season.

2. Iowa at North Carolina: Expect a high-scoring game because the Hawkeyes and Tar Heels both want to run early and often. Forward Jarrod Uthoff and center Gabriel Olaseni give Iowa a formidable frontcourt duo that will put up points in Fran McCaffery’s system despite their roster losses from last season. The Hawkeyes have never won on the road (0-5) in the Challenge. UNC will be a much more athletic team than it was last season with the addition of freshmen Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson. The game could offer a small bit of redemption back home for guard Marcus Paige, who is a Marion, Iowa, native, after the Heels were bounced by Iowa State in the NCAA tournament.

3. Ohio State at Louisville: The last time Thad Matta squared off against Rick Pitino, Xavier upset the Cardinals in the 2004 NCAA tournament en route to the Elite Eight. It was the run that helped Matta land the Buckeyes job. Matta will learn what he’s working with in an early road test for a young, but talented team. The game will also serve as a homecoming for Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, a Louisville native, who had an offer from Louisville. Ironically, next season, the Cards will rely heavily on sophomore guard Terry Rozier, a Cleveland native, who is expected to have a breakout year with the departure of Russ Smith. Montrezl Harrell’s decision to return to school was like a recruiting coup for the Cards.

4. Virginia at Maryland: A new twist to an old rivalry. The two foes have literally played the past 100 years, and as ACC rivals the game had the exalted status of the final regular season game for the better part of the last four decades. It could easily be the most intense game of the Challenge since both teams know each other so well. The backcourt battle pitting Virginia’s London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon against Maryland’s Seth Allen and Dez Wells could determine the outcome.

5. Michigan State at Notre Dame: From 1908 to 1979 the Spartans and Irish had a healthy basketball rivalry, meeting 94 times. It’s the first meeting between the schools since MSU beat the Irish in the Elite Eight en route to its 1979 national championship. The Spartans bring back Branden Dawson, who considered turning pro. The Irish welcome back Jerian Grant, who withdrew from school at the start of conference play due to an “academic matter.”

6. Syracuse at Michigan: Think of how great this game would have been with guard Tyler Ennis and forward Jerami Grant still suiting up for the Orange and guard Nik Stauskas, forward Glenn Robinson III and center Mitch McGary playing for the Wolverines. Instead, they form an all-star lineup of NBA early entries. In a rematch of the 2013 Final Four game, only a combined five players (Syracuse: Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney; Michigan: Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert) remain who played in the game.

7. Nebraska at Florida State: If the Cornhuskers plan on improving on last season's NCAA appearance, they have to learn to win games like this. The Huskers were just 3-8 last season on the road and Tallahassee can be a tough place to play. The Seminoles missed the NCAA tournament last season due to several close nonconference losses, a trend they’ll need to reverse this season.

8. Pittsburgh at Indiana: The Panthers haven’t played the Hoosiers in Bloomington since 1941 and Pitt's experienced guards Cameron Wright and James Robinson won’t be intimidated by Assembly Hall. Noah Vonleh’s decision to turn pro possibly set IU back in its bid to rejoin the nation’s elite. But guard Yogi Ferrell and newcomer James Blackmon Jr. means the Hoosiers' cupboard isn’t bare.

9. Illinois at Miami: The Illini could be a darkhorse in league and an early road win could prove it. Guard Rayvonte Rice will be even harder to stop if he can improve his 3-point shooting from 29.5 percent last season. The Canes return just three players from last season, who accounted for just 15 percent of their scoring. Transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) should make immediate impact for Miami.

10. Minnesota at Wake Forest: Guards Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins give Minnesota backcourt stability. The Deacons counter with their top duo of leading scorer Codi Miller-McIntyre and leading rebounder Devin Thomas, who should help Danny Manning make a smooth transition in his first season as coach.

11. Rutgers at Clemson: The Mack and Jack show is back for Rutgers. Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack were the top two scorers from last season and a formidable duo. Clemson returned everyone of impact except leading scorer and rebounder K.J. McDaniels. Guard Rod Hall will likely expand his scoring role after leading the Tigers in assists.

12. NC State at Purdue: The Boilermakers are the hottest team in the Challenge with five straight wins. Junior 7-footer A.J. Hammons gives Purdue a solid centerpiece to build around. NCSU has the monumental task of replacing 2014 ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren. The Wolfpack's fortunes could rest with talented, yet erratic, point guard Anthony Barber.

13. Georgia Tech at Northwestern: Both teams hope to get a boost from guards lost to injury last season. Tech’s Travis Jorgenson played in just four games before tearing his ACL. Northwestern’s oft-injured guard JerShon Cobb, its leading scorer returning, missed the last five games with a foot injury. The Yellow Jackets have only won once on the road in the Challenge.

14. Virginia Tech at Penn State: The Nittany Lions return most of their rotation that lost eight games by five or fewer points. Senior guard D.J. Newbill, who led the team in scoring, is now the unequivocal leader with Tim Frazier gone. Buzz Williams begins Hokies rebuilding project with a good starting point -- guard Devin Wilson was on both the coaches and media all-ACC freshmen teams and ranked third in the league in assists.


At 11:59 p.m. ET Sunday night, the NBA's early-entry draft deadline came and went. No key college hoops offseason date has so much, or so widespread, an impact on the landscape to come. And, for the fledgling offseason rankings writer, no consideration is trickier. Without question, that's the hardest part about the Way Too Early Top 25, which we published with confetti still on the keyboard just after UConn's national championship earlier this month. Until draft decisions are in, you're just making guesses. Educated guesses, sure. But guesses all the same.

Now that we know which players are staying and which are going, it's time to offer an edited addendum to this offseason's first attempt at a 2014-15 preseason top 25. How did draft decisions change the list?

In short, not a whole lot. But we do have a new No. 1. It will surprise nobody.

  1. John Calipari
    Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesJohn Calipari will have a roster full of future NBA players, as usual, next season. And this one will have experience.
    Kentucky Wildcats: Kentucky was our No. 3 in the Way Too Early rankings back when we were almost certain the Harrison twins, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, and maybe even Dakari Johnson would be headed to the NBA. In the end, Kentucky kept all five, and add two of the best big men in the country (Trey Lyles, Karl Towns) in the incoming class to form a team that is surprisingly experienced, mind-bendingly tall (Calipari has three 7-footers and two 6-10 guys, all of whom are likely to play in the NBA), and every bit as loaded on natural talent as ever. Kentucky is losing Julius Randle and James Young to the draft, and will probably be better next season. Kind of insane!
  2. Duke Blue Devils: Nothing less than a Jabari Parker return could have moved Duke beyond Kentucky and into the No. 1 spot at this point in the season, and Parker is heading to the NBA, as expected. Even so, the Blue Devils are in great shape, mixing the nation's best recruiting class with a really solid group of veteran, tried-and-tested role players.
  3. Arizona Wildcats: The tentative No. 1 back when Nick Johnson was still weighing the proverbial options, Arizona takes the deep, chasmic plummet all the way to No. 3. In less sarcastic terms: Sean Miller has Arizona so well-oiled that it can lose its two best players (Aaron Gordon and Johnson) and still be a national title contender next season.
  4. Wisconsin Badgers: Frank Kaminsky almost made this more work than it had to be; after a breakout postseason, Kaminsky saw scouts' interest skyrocket. But he held off in the end, which means the Badgers are still only losing one player -- senior guard Ben Brust -- from last year's excellent Final Four group.
  5. Wichita State Shockers: Nothing to report here: The Shockers are still losing Cleanthony Early and still keeping Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. Will they go unbeaten until late March again? No, but they'll be awfully good.
  6. North Carolina Tar Heels: Point guard Marcus Paige played well enough in 2013-14 to earn a fair amount of NBA discussion by the time the season was over. Brice Johnson was just as promising, even in more limited minutes. But both players were always likely to come back, and now that they have, Roy Williams has more talent and experience at his disposal than at any time in the past five years.
  7. Virginia Cavaliers: The Cavaliers are still a relatively predictable bunch going forward. Losing Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris will hurt, but Tony Bennett's team will still be led by Malcolm Brogdon and a very solid returning core.
  8. Louisville Cardinals: Montrezl Harrell was probably a lottery pick, making his decision to stay in Louisville for another season one of the most surprising of the past month. It's also worth a big boost to Louisville's 2014-15 projections.
  9. Florida Gators: Probably the biggest boom-or-bust team on this list, Florida's 2014-15 season will hinge on the development of point guard Kasey Hill and raw-but-gifted big man Chris Walker. Jon Horford, a graduate transfer from Michigan, will add size and stability.
  10. Kansas Jayhawks: Bill Self's team won't have Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid in the fold next season, which was always a foregone conclusion (even if Embiid waited just long enough to make us wonder). But the players Self does have returning, plus another solid batch of arrivals, should make for another Big 12 regular-season title, the program's 11th in a row. Ho-hum.
  11. Connecticut Huskies: DeAndre Daniels' pro turn is a little bit surprising, given how quickly Daniels rose from relative obscurity in the NCAA tournament, but it is far less damaging than Ryan Boatright's return is helpful. And transfer guard Rodney Purvis, eligible this fall, will help, too.
  12. Southern Methodist Mustangs: An already good team (and one that probably deserved to get in the NCAA tournament over NC State, but oh well) gets almost everyone back and adds the No. 2 point guard in the 2014 class (Emmanuel Mudiay) to the mix, coached by Larry Brown. This should be interesting.
  13. Villanova Wildcats: Before Jay Wright's team lost to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament and UConn in the round of 32, it lost exactly three games all season. Four starters and an excellent reserve (Josh Hart) return, and Wright's program should remain ascendant.
  14. Virginia Commonwealth Rams: Shaka Smart has a lineup full of his prototypical ball-hawking guards, with the best recruiting class of his career en route this summer.
  15. Gonzaga Bulldogs: As Kentucky prepares for another season in the spotlight, a player who helped the Wildcats win their last national title -- forward Kyle Wiltjer -- re-emerges at Gonzaga, where he'll be the perfect stretch 4 in a devastating offensive lineup.
  16. Iowa State Cyclones: By and large, the Cyclones are what they were when their season ended: Seniors Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane are off to the Association, but Fred Hoiberg still has a lot of interesting, interchangeable pieces at his disposal.
  17. Texas Longhorns: The recently announced transfer of Maryland forward Shaquille Cleare won't help the Longhorns until 2015-16, when Cleare becomes eligible, but with everybody back, the Longhorns have a chance to make a real leap right away.
  18. [+] EnlargeBranden Dawson
    Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesMichigan State shouldn't slide back too far with Branden Dawson returning.
    Michigan State Spartans: Our first offseason ranking of Michigan State essentially assumed that Gary Harris would leave, which he did. Branden Dawson's return is crucial, and if Denzel Valentine has a big year, Tom Izzo's team might not take as big a step back as everyone is predicting.
  19. Oklahoma Sooners: Same story here: a very good offensive team with most of its major pieces back that needs to get a bit better defensively to really make a move into the elite.
  20. San Diego State Aztecs: The team that should have been on our first list anyway gets here now in large part as a function of its competition. But that's not an insult: Even losing Xavier Thames, the Aztecs are going to defend really well again, with a group of exciting young West Coast players on the way.
  21. Syracuse Orange: The Orange took not one, but two big-time hits in the draft-decision window. The first was point guard Tyler Ennis; the second, forward and sixth man Jerami Grant. Ennis was the most crucial, as it leaves Syracuse without an obvious point guard replacement.
  22. Oregon Ducks: Now that UCLA's Jordan Adams switched his decision and will leave for the NBA (with little time to spare, too), Oregon's combination of Joseph Young, Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson looks like the second-best Pac-12 team.
  23. Kansas State Wildcats: Freshman star Marcus Foster was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2013-14 season; he should be even better as a sophomore.
  24. Michigan Wolverines: The worst-case scenario for Michigan fans came true: Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all left for the NBA draft. That said, Caris LeVert is on track for a major season, and while Michigan won't have the firepower of the past two seasons, it's fair to assume the Wolverines will still put up a ton of points.
  25. Iowa Hawkeyes: The argument for Iowa still stands: Fran McCaffery can reasonably replace Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe with Jarrod Uthoff and Gabriel Olaseni and still get the kind of offense that fueled the pre-collapse Hawkeyes last season.

Early-entry winners and losers

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
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The NBA’s early-entry deadline passed Sunday night as Division I coaches were returning from the only April recruiting weekend.

For the first time since the end of the season, the coaches finally know whom they will have and whom they won’t for next season.

Here are the winners and losers after the early-entry deadline. Keep in mind, some teams -- Duke, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Colorado, Arizona State and Tennessee -- knew long ago they would be losing players, so they don’t fit in either category.

Winners

Kentucky: The Wildcats could have been starting from scratch again next season. The players would have had plenty of reason to bolt after making the national title game. But only two did, and the Wildcats can absorb the losses of Julius Randle and James Young. The decisions by Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee to stay, coupled with newcomers Trey Lyles and Karl Towns Jr., give Kentucky a deeper and more versatile frontcourt. The return of guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison means coach John Calipari doesn’t need to restart his perimeter. Kentucky is probably the only program in the country that can be in the winners column by losing two lottery picks because of the NBA draft-level depth of the freshman and sophomore classes.

Wisconsin: The Badgers were within one stop of advancing to the national title game before Aaron Harrison’s 3-point dagger in Arlington, Texas, in the national semifinal. Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky easily could have put their postgame emotions behind them and said goodbye to Madison. But they did not. The return of the two scorers -- one on the wing and one inside and out -- means the Badgers have enough returning to be a Big Ten preseason favorite, a top-five team and a national title contender.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels were in a danger zone. UNC lost James Michael McAdoo, who had been inconsistent at times during his career. It could have seen point guard Marcus Paige and forward Brice Johnson bolt too. But that didn’t happen. Having Paige return is huge for coach Roy Williams. Paige will be the preseason favorite for ACC Player of the Year. His return was a must for UNC to be a conference title contender.

Louisville: The Cardinals had the most electric frontcourt player in the American last season in Montrezl Harrell. Few players could keep him off the backboard when he was going for a flush. The Cardinals continue to reload but don’t need to restart in the ACC sans Harrell. They won’t have to with his return.

Arkansas: The Hogs were a bit of an enigma last season with a sweep of Kentucky and a near-miss overtime loss at home to Florida. But the chances for Arkansas to make the NCAA tournament next season under Mike Anderson would have been reduced considerably if 6-foot-10 Bobby Portis and 6-6 Michael Qualls declared for the draft. Anderson was pleased to report Sunday that they did not.

Nebraska: The goodwill created by the Huskers’ run to the NCAA tournament could have been snuffed out if Terran Petteway was romanced by the good fortune and declared for the NBA draft. But he chose against it, and as a result Nebraska should be in the top six in the Big Ten and competing for a bid again.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers had moments last season when they looked like an NCAA tournament team. They should be next season with the decision by point guard Juwan Staten to return to Morgantown. He averaged 18.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. He will enter the season with a strong case to be considered for Big 12 Player of the Year honors.

Oregon: The Ducks are constantly in transition but needed some sort of consistency from one season to another with a key transfer. Joseph Young had the goods to declare. But he’s coming back to give them a legitimate scorer going into next season and an all-Pac-12 player in the quest to return to the NCAA tournament.

Utah: Larry Krystkowiak has the Utes on the verge of being an NCAA tournament team. That plan could have easily been derailed if Delon Wright took the bait of being a possible first-round pick. Wright’s return means the Utes will be an upper-half Pac-12 team and a preseason pick to make the NCAA tournament.

Losers

UCLA: The Bruins found out late Saturday night that Jordan Adams was gone. He joins Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine. That means four of five starters are not back from the Pac-12 tournament champs. Steve Alford has a stellar recruiting class, but this team will be extremely young.

Michigan: The Wolverines are a prisoner of their own success. Nik Stauskas was hardly a two-year player when he was signed. But he matured into a Big Ten Player of the Year. He jumped with Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, who had no choice after a one-year ban because of a failed drug test for marijuana during the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines will enter a new era under John Beilein.

Syracuse: Tyler Ennis was probably more of a two-year point guard when he was signed. But he was one of the best players in the country as a freshman and capitalized on his success by leaving for the lottery. Jerami Grant's departure means the Orange will look quite a bit different in their second year in the ACC.

Missouri: The Tigers lost coach Frank Haith to Tulsa and their two best players in Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown. They will be pushing a restart button next season.

Xavier: The Musketeers had one of the most dynamic players in the Big East last season in Semaj Christon. Xavier is never down, but this presents yet another challenge for Chris Mack.

New Mexico: Alex Kirk was a potential early entrant. Add his departure to the known exits of Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams and the Lobos are rebuilding under Craig Neal.

Clemson: The Tigers had serious momentum with a strong finishing kick led by K.J. McDaniels. Brad Brownell always finds a way to keep his teams competitive. He’ll need to reinvent the team again with the loss of McDaniels.

Oregon State: The Beavers had a real gem in Eric Moreland, if he came back to work on his skills. He is tantalizing with his length and athleticism for the NBA, but he leaves the Beavers as a raw product when he and Oregon State could have benefited from his return.

Indiana: The Hoosiers have recruited at a high level the past four years under Tom Crean. Noah Vonleh is the latest to bolt. The problem for the Hoosiers is that he left a year too early, before he could have a full effect on the program with an NCAA berth.

NC State: The Wolfpack made a remarkable late surge to the NCAA tournament and won a game in the First Four before a late-game loss to Saint Louis in the round of 64. They had the ACC Player of the Year in T.J. Warren. The Wolfpack were supposed to be rebuilding last season and at times looked the part. But the run to the tournament changed the narrative. Now, with Warren gone, the rebuild might be underway.

UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels were a disappointment last season even with Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith. Now they’re both off to the NBA draft, putting more pressure on Dave Rice to keep the Rebels chasing San Diego State, among others, next season.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost their best defensive player and leader in Aaron Craft. Now one of their top scorers is gone, too, with LaQuinton Ross' decision to declare.

Push

Arizona: The Wildcats lost Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson -- two significant body blows. But the return of Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski, coupled with another elite recruiting class led by Stanley Johnson, means the Wildcats will be the pick to win the Pac-12.

UConn: The Huskies could afford to lose DeAndre Daniels with the addition of transfer Rodney Purvis but couldn’t handle the loss of Ryan Boatright. His return gives Kevin Ollie a lead guard to run the offense and jump-start the defense. No one will pick the defending champs to win the title again, but that’s exactly how UConn likes the odds.

LSU: Johnny Jones knew he was likely going to lose Johnny O’Bryant III, but there were questions about whether he would be without freshmen bigs Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. He got them both back, and the Tigers should be in contention for the NCAA tournament.

Michigan State: The Spartans weren’t surprised Gary Harris left after two seasons. But Michigan State would have taken an even deeper dip if Branden Dawson had jumped at the chance for the NBA. Dawson wasn’t a lock for the first round. He took the advice and stayed.

3-point shot: White staying put

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
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Andy Katz talks about Mike White staying at Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss' next coach and potential NBA futures for Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan, Fred Hoiberg and Kevin Ollie.
In the coming days, college standouts will announce that they’re either going to the NBA or returning to school for another year. This is a critical time for college players. Their futures could be altered -- for better or worse -- based on their decisions.

Some coaches are in similar positions. In their case, most would be wise to stay in school.

That doesn’t stop the speculation, though.

[+] EnlargeBilly Donovan
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackFlorida coach Billy Donovan had a change of heart in 2007 when he accepted the job to coach the Orlando Magic and then returned to the Gators.
John Calipari has tried to kill recent rumors that he'll leave Kentucky to take a Lakers job that isn't even vacant. There has also been some buzz about Kevin Ollie’s future now that the former NBA journeyman has won an NCAA title as Connecticut’s coach.

More rumors about college coaches potentially turning pro emerged Monday when Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman announced his retirement. Various reports have pegged Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg, Florida's Billy Donovan and Michigan State's Tom Izzo as possible targets.

ESPN NBA reporter Marc Stein tweeted earlier today: “Been discussing Izzo/Hoiberg for some time as candidates to replace Adelman, but here's a new name I'm told interests Wolves: Billy Donovan.”

That’s not surprising.

All three coaches have been tied to the NBA in the past. Izzo famously rejected the Cleveland Cavaliers’ offer a few years back following an extensive courtship. Before Hoiberg returned to lead his alma mater, he was an executive with the Minnesota Timberwolves and an NBA veteran. Donovan accepted the Orlando Magic job a few years ago, and then he changed his mind days later.

They’re all intriguing candidates who may or may not have any interest in the opening. Being “pursued” doesn't mean you're really “linked” to a job; you might ask Kate Upton out, but that doesn't mean you're dating her.

But there’s certainly interest from Minnesota.

Per Stein:

The challenge, of course, in pursuing any of those three is convincing one of them to leave their veritable college kingdoms to take over an NBA team whose franchise player has only a year to go on his contract.

The coach Minnesota ultimately hires is supposed to help the Wolves sway Kevin Love to stay. But how do you convince the likes of Donovan to leave Florida -- or a full-fledged emperor like Izzo at Michigan State -- to make the jump to the NBA without assurances that Love will stick around for the long haul?

Wolves president of basketball operations and minority owner Flip Saunders and Izzo are tight. Hoiberg is a former Wolves player and executive. They will surely listen when the call comes. And so, too, will Donovan. They will give the Wolves an opportunity, at the very least, to make a determined pitch.


It’s OK to say no, especially since the grass is often greener in college.

Sure, this Minnesota job -- and any NBA opening -- will come with perks. There’s a chance Love will stay in Minnesota and give the next coach a chance to build around him. Plus, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor just bought one of America’s largest newspapers because he felt like it. What will he spend on his next coach?

But Donovan, Izzo and Hoiberg -- and other college coaches like them -- enjoy something that’s rarely replicated in the NBA: long-lasting appreciation.

In the NBA, they love you and then they leave you. Calipari and Louisville's Rick Pitino know that. Two years ago, Mike Woodson led the New York Knicks to the playoffs after a 54-win season. On Monday, new team president Phil Jackson fired him.

Former Butler coach Brad Stevens could turn things around in Boston. But the Celtics will need a bunch of young players and future draft picks to develop so he can build off a 25-57 record in his first season. And if things don't change in the next two or three years, Stevens will be on the hot seat, too.

College basketball isn't immune to that attitude, either. This is a multibillion-dollar business. Administrators want to win. Now.

But there are more jobs that provide legitimate security, although they might not pay as well. Some college coaches are still living off achievements from a decade ago.

Once you're on a perch in college basketball, you can stay there as long as you'd like.

You can't say that about every college team. There are enough leaders in the game, however, who won't leave their posts until they want to leave.

The three coaches mentioned as possible targets for the Timberwolves job are in the aforementioned group.

[+] EnlargeFred Hoiberg
Reese Strickland/USA TODAY SportsIowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has ties to the Minnesota Timberwolves as a player and executive.
Hoiberg signed a 10-year deal to stay in Ames last year, and Iowa State recently boosted his annual pay to $2.6 million per season. He’s also “The Mayor” of Ames. And if you ever travel to Ames, Iowa, you’ll realize that this isn’t just some nickname. If Hoiberg wanted to be carried to his seat on the bench by a chariot each night at Hilton Coliseum, then that’s exactly what he’d get.

Izzo complained about a lack of appreciation in East Lansing, Mich., when he danced with the Cavs. But when he announced his return, he was surrounded by players, fans, administrators and boosters at an elaborate press conference that felt like a wedding. How many times have you seen that kind of “Welcome Back” ceremony in the NBA?

Donovan must deal with the gravitational pull of Florida football each season. He has won multiple national titles and guided the Gators to the Elite Eight four consecutive seasons. But Gainesville will always be a football town, so maybe he’ll think about the Minnesota gig if it’s offered to him.

But the No. 2 slot in a sports-crazed community is much better than being fourth or fifth in a major market that features four pro teams and Division I basketball/football.

In the NBA, you can be forgotten. Quickly. Or just relentlessly ridiculed. See: the Knicks in 2013-14.

If you’re good, you can become a legend. There are more casualties than heroes, though. Many college coaches who’ve chased NBA cash or prestige have failed and lost the success and comfort they’d previously enjoyed in college.

Yes, there’s often more green in the NBA.

And there’s a lot of blue for the coaches who make the wrong decisions, too.

Sometimes it’s best to just stick with a good thing. The NBA isn’t always a good thing.

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