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DIRECTV Classic: Eight to Watch

Allen Crabbe

School: California Golden Bears
Class: Junior | Position: Guard
Height: 6-6 | Weight: 210
Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.

2012 Averages: 15.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.1 APG
Career Averages: 14.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.1 APG

The Backstory:
It's golden days for Golden Bears basketball fans these days and Allen Crabbe is a big reason why. The junior guard, who was Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in 2011 and First Team All-Pac-12 last season, leads Cal, which was ranked third in Pac-12 preseason polls and has won 88 games (47 within the conference) over the last four years, the school's best stretch in more than half a century. Crabbe will try to shoot the Bears to even greater heights as a junior. The team's leading scorer, rebounder and three-point shooter a year ago, the former Price High School star was among the conference's top 10 in three-point field goals made (first), free throw percentage (second), defensive rebounding (fifth), scoring (sixth), and three-point field goal percentage (10th). He was 14th in rebounding. The durable two played in all 34 games, starting 33 of them, averaged a team-high 34.1 minutes and was productive scoring in double figures 28 times (getting at least 20 points seven times). In addition to leading the team in rebounding, Crabbe grabbed a team-high 4.0 defensive rebounds and was second on the team with 20 blocks. He hauled in a career-high 12 rebounds as part of a 26-point, 12-rebound double-double at Oregon, had a positive assist-to-turnover ratio and is money late in games, as he shot a .843 from the line last season (second in the conference) and early this season was north of 90 percent from the line.

Key Stat: 83
Crabbe buried a Pac-12-high 83 three-pointers last season, the second-most in a season in school history. With 153 three-point field goals in two years, he came into 2012-13 only 99 off the school record.

Did You Know: Allen became the 42nd member of Cal's 1,000-point club, with a three at 9:34 of the second half on Nov. 16 at Denver. He reached the mark in his 68th career game, 19 fewer than it took Cal's all-time leading scorer Jerome Randle (2007-10).

Matthew Dellavedova

School: Saint Mary's Gaels
Class: Senior | Position: Guard
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 190
Hometown: Maryborough, Victoria, Australia

2012 Averages: 15.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 6.4 APG
Career Averages: 13.7 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5.4 APG

The Backstory:
St. Mary's, the two-time defending West Coast Conference champions, made history of sorts last season, winning the WCC regular season and conference tournament championship, denying Gonzaga either for the first time in 15 years. Senior guard Matthew Dellavedova would like to make that history repeat. He'd also like to repeat as Conference Player of the Year. The reigning WCC Player of the Year also was named the conference's Preseason Player of the Year and is on the preseason watch lists for the John Wooden Award (one of three WCC players) and the Naismith Award. The Aussie guard ranks second in three-point field goals and third in three-point FGAs all-time in school history and is the West Coast Conference's leading returning scorer. But he is more than just a shooter. Dellavedova, the school's all-time assists leader who ranks second in dimes among returning WCC players, was second in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2), and was a horse, leading the conference in minutes per game (37.4). Think that's special? In the classroom he became the first player in St. Mary's history to be named to the Capital One Academic All-America First Team last year, carrying a 3.61 GPA, and over the summer, played for his native Australia in the London Olympics.

Key Stat: 2.24
Dellavedova has a career 2.24 assist-to-turnover ratio and has raised his assist total every season, going from 153 as a freshman to 180 as a sophomore to 204 last year.

Did You Know: Coming into the 2012-13 season, the Gaels have won almost 79 percent of the time with Matthew in the starting lineup. In his 98 starts in 101 games overall, St. Mary's is 77-21, a .786 winning percentage.

Tamir Jackson

School: Rice Owls
Class: Senior | Position: Guard
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 194
Hometown: Paterson, N.J.

2012 Averages: 10.5 PPG, 2.47 RPG, 2.9 APG
Career Averages: 11.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 3.14 APG

The Backstory:
While there are lots of new faces in Houston, guard Tamir Jackson, the team's lone senior, is a familiar and very welcome one for coach Ben Braun. Jackson made the Owls go last year, leading them in scoring and assists. He will be called upon to do even more this season, especially with the transfer of forward Arsalan Kazemi. Jackson, already in the top 10 in assists and steals in school history, started the season just outside of the career top 20 in scoring. But that will likely change very soon. He could finish in the school's top 10 in scoring—and challenge for the top three in assists and steals—with a typical Tamir Jackson season. The Paterson, N.J., native is the only current Owl with a 20-plus-point game (he has nine of them), a 10-rebound game (one), a seven-assist game (five), a five-steal game (five) and a double-double—getting the first double-double and 10-rebound game on Nov. 14, when he went for 12 points and 15 rebounds in the 75-63 win over St. Edwards. Jackson will have to step up big time for the Owls to return to postseason play for the second consecutive year. Rice was ranked seventh in the C-USA preseason poll prior to news of Kazemi's transfer.

Key Stat: .391/.291
That's Jackson's shooting and three-point shooting percentages last season. Those numbers dipped from his sophomore season, when he shot .423 and .353. Rice needs him to get back to those levels, especially considering how much the offense relies on him and the high number of shots he takes per game.

Did You Know: Jackson has recorded double-doubles in his last two games—12 points, 15 rebounds against St. Edwards and 17 and 12 against Temple—after not having one in his first 98 collegiate games.

Frantz Massenat

School: Drexel Dragons
Class: Junior | Position: Guard
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 185
Hometown: Ewing, N.J.

2012 Averages: 13.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 4.8 APG
Career Averages: 10.0 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 4.2 APG

The Backstory:
Despite dominating the Colonial Athletic Association with a 16-2 record last year, Drexel's NCAA Tournament hopes went down in flames with a Conference Tournament title game loss to VCU. The Dragons, who have back-to-back 20-win seasons, expect to knock on the Tournament door again. With Frantz Massenat, the junior guard and Preseason Player of the Year, leading the way, success will likely come. Massenat has made a quantum leap from one of the conference's top rookie guards — he was named to the CAA All-Rookie Team, one of seven Dragons ever to make it (as did teammate Dartaye Ruffin) — to one of its best players. He earned First-Team All-CAA honors as a sophomore — only three players ever to make that list and the first since 2004 — to the elite player in the conference. Last season he increased his scoring by more than eight points per game over his freshman year. He did that by improving his shooting from the field, and from three, where he led the conference (making 45 percent (fifth all-time in Drexel single-season history) and free throw shooting (.781, a 169 point increase). His assists per game and assists-to-turnover ratio also went up, to 4.8 per game and 2.2. And, he's durable. Massenat has not missed a game in his two seasons at Drexel and plans to be at the point leading the Dragons when they play in this year's NCAA Tournament.

Key Stat: 173
Massenat handed out a CAA-high 173 assists last season, the fifth-best season in school history. He began the season 20th in school history in career assists and is fifth in assists per game.

Did You Know: Massenat is one of eight players tied for the school single-game record for best free throw percentage in a game (minimum 10 attempts), but holds the record for the most among that group, making 15 attempts last Feb. 14 at Towson.

Lorenzo McCloud

School: Pacific Tigers
Class: Senior | Position: Guard
Height: 6-0 | Weight: 170
Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.

2012 Averages: 11.2 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.1 SPG
Career Averages: 11.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.1 SPG

The Backstory:
Lorenzo McCloud may be known as "Lil Man" but he has big game. Pacific's leader in scoring and assists in his debut season with the Tigers after transferring from Santa Rosa Junior College, McCloud is back for his senior season and determined to lead the squad and give legendary coach Bob Thomason a send-off to remember. The explosive point started 23 of the 28 games last season and went for double-figures 15 times, seven times in the last nine games. McCloud had three 20-point games, including a career-high 23 against Hawaii on Nov. 25. He can dish with the best in the conference, as he had a pair of eight-assist games, both immaculate efforts, in which he had one and two turnovers respectively. The Tigers, who won the Big West in 2010, were picked for sixth in preseason polls. They are coming off a rare losing season — only Thomason's seventh — although things could have gone quite differently, as the Tigers dropped seven games decided by five-or-fewer points. Under Thomason, Pacific hasn't had back-to-back losing seasons since 1991 and '92 and McCloud has no plans for it happen under his watch. With a year of familiarity, these Tigers could be a very dangerous team this season.

Key Stat: 5.5
McCloud's 154 free throws attempted last season (5.5 a game) were good for fifth in the Big West. He converted 116 (also fifth in the conference and right behind teammate Ross Rivera), a .758 percent success rate, 12th in the Big West.

Did You Know: McCloud was a teammate of the Houston Rockets' James Harden and Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan at Compton High School in Compton, Calif.

Mfon Udofia

School: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Class: Senior | Position: Guard
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 195
Hometown: Miller Grove, Ga.

2012 Averages: 9.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 2.8 APG
Career Averages: 7.4 PPG, 2.63 RPG, 2.0 APG

The Backstory:
Georgia Tech's lone senior and leading returning scorer will play a key role as coach Brian Gregory takes the next step in building the Yellow Jackets program. Tech, picked to finish ninth in the ACC this season following its 11-20 season (7-8 in the ACC), struggled scoring last season, averaging 60.2 points per game (only Boston College scored fewer) and was last in the conference in three-point shooting. Udofia averaged a team-high 31.8 minutes (35 minutes or more seven times from Feb. 1 on) and showed improvement offensively, filling the void late in the year left by leading scorer Glen Rice, who was suspended from the team on Feb. 17. As the season wore on, he grew more comfortable taking over the point guard role full time and over the season's final seven games. He had four multi-three-point games, shooting .458 in that stretch (11-for-25), and finished the season with a career-best .321 percentage from behind the arc. Gregory believes that behind Udofia, one of two Jackets to start the season with more than 10 starts, better days are coming for his team, which feature five freshmen and three sophomores.

Key Stat: 1.69
Udofia was excellent taking care of the ball over the final nine games of the season, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.69 (39 assists vs. 23 turnovers). Beginning on Feb. 4 with a six-assist, 0-turnover game against Boston College, he was plus in six of the final nine games.

Did You Know:While Udofia has dedicated himself to basketball, his first love was actually baseball and, in his high school days at Miller Grove, he hit the first home run in the history of the school. He was a hit on the court as a senior, leading the school to the Class AAAA state title and winning AAAA Player of the Year.

Ben Simons

School: Drake Bulldogs
Class: Senior | Position: Forward
Height: 6-8 | Weight: 209
Hometown: Cadillac, Mich.

2012 Averages: 16.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.4 APG
Career Averages: 10.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.1 APG

The Backstory:
Drake was a long shot to make the NCAA Tournament last season and may be an even longer shot to make it back this year — the Bulldogs were ranked sixth in the Missouri Valley Conference coaches' preseason poll. The longer the shot, the more that seems to work in favor of forward and co-captain Ben Simons. The conference's third-leading returning scorer and a Preseason All-Conference selection, the versatile Simons, whose primary position is the three, played all five positions for Mark Phelps' Bulldogs last season. Named Second Team All-MVC, Simons has shown that he can score from anywhere, as last season he was third on the team in field goal percentage (.471) and led the team in three-point field goal percentage (.425). His 2.6 threes per game led the conference, and he began the '12-13 season 53 points shy of becoming the 28th Drake player to score 1,000 points. He also has a chance to finish his career in the top three in school history in three-point shooting; he needed 80 on the season to tie Luke McDonald (2001-03) and Klayton Korver (2003-08). That would mean making three more threes than he made last year, when he led the MVC in that category.

Key Stat: .860
Simons' .860 free throw percentage coming into the season was the best among active Missouri Valley Conference players. He missed a total of 17 free throw attempts in his first three years, last season making 62 of 73 attempts, good for .849. That, by the way, was his lowest percentage of any season (he was 42 of 48 over his first two years).

Did You Know: Simons was runner-up for Michigan's Mr. Basketball in 2009, coming out of Cadillac High School (Michigan State forward Derrick Nix won the award) and was named captain of the MVC's Most Improved Team, beating out two MVC First-Teamers.

Travis Taylor

School: Xavier
Class: Senior | Position: Forward
Height: 6-8 | Weight: 220
Hometown: Union, N.J.

2012 Averages: 4.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG
Career Averages: 10.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG

The Backstory:
The Musketeers find themselves in an unusual position in 2012-13, as they were not chosen to finish first or second in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll for the first time in seven years. Coach Chris Mack's club was chosen to finish ninth. That's quite a comedown for a program that reached the Sweet 16 in last season's NCAA Tournament. But the ranking can be attributed to the departure of the entire starting five from a year ago. A new starting five, however, presents an opportunity for forward Travis Taylor. In his second year with Xavier since transferring from Monmouth College prior to the start of his junior year, Taylor should feel right at home in the starting lineup. He made 34 starts with the Hawks, including all 24 games as a sophomore in 2009-10. He's the team's leading returning scorer and rebounder and is second in blocks. As a starter, he's come out with guns blazing this season, hitting .667 percent of his shots (18-for-27) and averaging 14.3 points and 9.3 boards.

Key Stat: 3.7
While Taylor made only four starts last season and averaged only 14.7 minutes per game, he still yanked down 3.7 rebounds, fourth on the Musketeers. His 12 rebounds last Nov. 25th against Georgia matched his career high and were part of a 10-point, 12-rebound double-double.

Did You Know: Taylor recorded his 1,000th career point in the Nov. 13th victory over Butler. He scored 812 of those points while playing at Monmouth.

University of Maryland alum Jon Cooper is an Atlanta-based freelance writer.