Penn State looking for more consistency
October 26, 2017
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Patrick Chambers watched as his best group of recruits started to blossom last season. Now he wants to see those young players hit their stride together.
”I want to see the development of these players,” Chambers said. ”Obviously, having your starting five back is something we’re not used to. A lot of excitement around here, we’re climbing. I know you guys have seen that.”
Chambers’ positive outlook is based mostly on the raw talent and flashes of success his youngsters showed last season. Sophomores Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins return after finishing at or near the top of all the team’s major statistical categories. They’ll join veterans Shep Garner and Julian Moore to give the Nittany Lions a starting group Chambers believes can take the next step.
For a team that hasn’t won more than seven conference games since Chambers arrived in 2011, that next step has to be a big one if the Nittany Lions are to make the kind of progress they expect.
They believe they have the skills to be playing well into March.
”It’s definitely a goal of ours,” Stevens said. ”We have to focus on the small things and not take anything for granted. We focus one practice at a time, one game at a time, and hopefully if we do that, then that dream and goal of ours will come true.”
The program has endured most of its struggles down the stretch, where it’s 29-74 in regular -season games after Dec. 31 under Chambers. Two of those wins came last year against ranked teams, and the Nittany Lions pushed then-No. 14 Purdue in an overtime loss that gave Chambers reason to be hopeful.
”It’s really more about consistency,” Chambers said. ”That’s why we’re climbing. The climb’s never straightforward. It’s left, right, it could go back, but that’s a great tagline for what we’re trying to do. So as long as they’re consistent and bring a great approach and they stick together and stay connected and there’s a lot of love in the room, we’ve got a great chance to have a really successful year.”
CARR-YING THE OFFENSE
Carr led the team with 13.2 points and 4.2 assists per game and reported to preseason practice with nearly 30 more pounds of muscle on what was a wiry 6-foot-5 frame.
He also believes he’s better prepared mentally for his sophomore year.
”There were definitely some times where I kind of lost my cool last year, and let my emotions get the best of me out there on the court,” Carr said. ”So I definitely made that a key point, just keeping myself under the wraps out there and just trying to be the best player and the best teammate that I can.”
HELP ON THE GLASS
Penn State often lost rebounding contests last season, and its deficiencies on the glass were notable nearly every time Watkins was on the bench.
Chambers added a player he thinks will complement Watkins, Stevens and Moore down low. Virginia Tech transfer Satchel Pierce is the team’s tallest player at 7 feet, and Chambers described him as ”really skilled.”
”He’s going to add a dimension where those 8-0 (scoring) runs, those 10-0 runs, if Mike (Watkins) is not in the game, I’m very confident he can get us an easy one,” Chambers said.
Garner possesses the team’s best long shot, making 36 percent of his 3-pointers last season. He was often complemented by Payton Banks, who left the program in the offseason.
So far, Carr and Josh Reaves look to be the next best options if the team needs a shot from beyond the arc. Stevens made it a goal to improve his 3-point shot in the offseason, too.
Nazeer Bostick didn’t see a lot of action last winter mainly because a hand injury limited him to 18 games. When he did play, Bostick proved himself a reliable spell in the guard rotation.
He played double-digit minutes in the team’s win over then-No. 24 Maryland and in two other games before his injury. Considering he was part of back-to-back PIAA Championship teams with Stevens and Carr at Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic High, Bostick is itching to get more minutes alongside his longtime teammates.
”With so many transfers at the end of the season, he could have been one of those guys,” Chambers said. ”He didn’t get the minutes that he wanted throughout the season. It’s very easy to change your attitude and do something different and fight the system. Instead, he embraced it, and I think that’s why he’s going to have such a breakout year.”
Last season: 31-5, lost in first round of NCAA Tournament
Coach: Bill Self
Conference: Big 12
Who’s gone: G Frank Mason III, G Josh Jackson, F Carlton Bragg, F Landen Lucas, F Dwight Coleby
Who’s back: G Devonte Graham is the leading returning scorer at 13.4 points per game last season; G Svi Mykhailiuk averaged 9.8 points and flirted with the NBA before returning for senior season; G Lagerald Vick averaged 7.4 points; F Udoka Azubuike missed most of his freshman season with a wrist injury.
Who’s new: G Malik Newman was a top-10 recruit who transferred from Mississippi State and sat out last season; G Sam Cunliffe is a transfer from Arizona State who becomes eligible in December; F Billy Preston was a consensus five-star recruit from Oak Hill Academy; G Marcus Garret was a four-star prospect from Dallas.
The Skinny: Kansas lost the national player of the year in Mason and a lottery pick in Jackson and is still favored to win its 14th straight Big 12 title. The Jayhawks should have more size with Azubuike and Preston in the paint, while Graham is poised to take over for Mason as a potential player of the year. If the newcomers can contribute, including do-everything guard Newman, the Jayhawks could make a Final Four run.
Last season: 21-14, lost in first round of NCAA Tournament
Coach: Bruce Weber
Conference: Big 12
Who’s gone: G Carlbe Ervin II, F Isaiah Maurice, F Wesley Iwundu, F Austin Budke, F D.J. Johnson
Who’s back: G Kamau Stokes averaged 11.7 points and a team-leading 4.1 assists last season; G Barry Brown averaged 11.7 points and 3.2 rebounds; F Dean Wade averaged 9.3 points and shot 50 percent from the field, and will be asked to give the Wildcats more of a post presence this season; Xavier Sneed averaged 7.1 points as a freshman and will be heavily counted upon this season.
Who’s new: F Mawdo Sallah is a 6-8 graduate transfer from Mount St. Mary’s who is eligible immediately; F Makol Mawie is a 6-9 sophomore who transferred from New Mexico Junior College; G Amaad Wainright transferred from Trinity Valley Community College; Nigel Shadd and Levi Stockard are touted 6-8 prep forwards; G Mike McGuirl is a top-100 guard prospect from Connecticut.
The Skinny: Kansas State squeaked into the NCAA Tournament last season despite going 8-10 in league play. Most of its core returns intact, though a lack of size that plagued the Wildcats last season still exists. Big 12 coaches picked them to finish eighth, but there is a feeling that they could finish in the top half of the league.
Texas looks to Bamba to help rebuild
October 27, 2017
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Last season was an embarrassment for Texas, for coach Shaka Smart, the players and the entire program.
There are few other ways to describe a season in which the Longhorns finished last in the Big 12 for the first time in league history and won just 11 games after starting the season in the Top 25.
”I used to say on selection Sunday, `Don’t take this for granted,”’ Smart said. ”Last year, we obviously were far from a tournament team. It gives you a real sense of urgency. Coming off last year, we certainly don’t want to dwell on it, but we want to learn from it.”
The terrible season didn’t stop the Longhorns from getting some really good news a few weeks late when top recruit Mohamed Bamba signed with the Longhorns. Most expect the power forward to make only a short stay at Texas on his way to the NBA. He’s already been named the Big 12 preseason freshman of the year .
”Mo is a unique player. He has the ability to impact a team in some very powerful ways,” Smart said.
Smart came to Texas two seasons ago as one of the hottest coaching names in college basketball and with the expectation of elevating a program back into a Big 12 title contender. His first season ended with a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament, the same sort of March fade that made the program lose patience with Rick Barnes. Then came the losing.
There’s been no suggestion from the school’s administration that Smart’s job is in jeopardy. But with Bamba on board and point-guard recruit Matt Coleman feeding him the ball, Texas should be, and must be, much better.
”We can be a team that can play with anyone,” Smart said. ”We’ve got a lot of maturing to do.”
Some things to watch for from Texas this season:
BIG MAN BAMBA
Bamba carries the expectation that he can dominate in college right away. Last season, Texas had forward Jarrett Allen, who was a first-round pick after his freshman season. Allen was good all year but seldom took over games like Bamba will be counted on to do.
POINT GUARD PRECISION
A huge problem for Texas last season was the lack of a true point guard and Smart never really coached one up. Coleman is a four-star recruit who will have targets like Bamba and Andrew Jones to get the offense moving. Coleman’s impact likely won’t make many highlight reels but it could be key in winning close games throughout the season.
Forward Dylan Osetkowski sat out last season after transferring from Tulane and gives the Longhorns much-needed versatility and athleticism up front next to Bamba. He had 11 double-doubles as a sophomore at Tulane and led the Green Wave in rebounding that season.
”Dylan and Mo, those guys are as good as anybody on our team as offensive engines. It starts with those guys. I’d doubt he’ll lead us in scoring, but he’ll make a lot of plays,” Smart said.
BIG SHOT DAVIS
Texas lacked the outside shooting that could deliver the daggers in big moments or help rally from big deficits. Guard Eric Davis was the top outside threat two seasons ago and needs to find that role again.
”We missed a lot of open 3-pointers last year. This is a make or miss game. The bottom line is we need to make more shots this year,” Smart said.
It was a problem all last season as losses mounted and Smart suspended Tevin Mack, the team’s top scorer and best defender at the time. Mack never returned and eventually transferred to Alabama. A happy team likely plays as a better team.
Who’s gone: F Johnathan Motley, the team’s top scorer and rebounder (17.3 points, 9.9 rebounds per game), G Al Freeman, G Ishmail Wainright.
Who’s back: PG Manu Lecomte is the top returning scorer at 12.2 points with 3.8 assists a game. The former Miami transfer from Belgium was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last season; 7-foot F Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (9.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.5 blocks per game), a sixth-year senior; F Terry Maston, who scored 19 points in each of Baylor’s first two NCAA Tournament games; G King McClure, a 3-point shooting threat; G Jake Lindsey; and F Nuni Omot.
Who’s new: F Tristan Clark, a Class 6A player of the year after his senior year at San Antonio’s Wagner High; G Tyson Jolly sat out last year after originally signing with California, but got his release after a coaching change; high-flying freshman F Mark Vital; 7-foot F Leonard Allen.
The Skinny: With three key starters back from a Sweet 16 team, including the point guard and the big man who keeps improving, Drew has a team that should be in the upper half of the Big 12 again. And that should be good enough for their eighth NCAA bid in 11 years.
Who’s gone: G Jordan Woodard. He was the team’s leading scorer with 14.6 points per game in an injury-shortened senior campaign.
Who’s back: G Kameron McGusty. He was the team’s No. 2 scorer last season as a freshman; G Rashard Odomes, who averaged 10.1 points last season as a sophomore; F Khristian Doolittle, who was one of Oklahoma’s best players in league play but is suspended for the fall semester; C Khadeem Lattin, a senior holdover from the team that reached the Final Four two years ago.
Who’s new: G Trae Young. A McDonald’s All-American who opted to stay in his hometown of Norman. He averaged 42.6 points per game as a senior at Norman North High School; F Brady Manek, who was a standout during Oklahoma’s foreign tour this summer; C Hannes Polla, a freshman from Finland.
The Skinny: Oklahoma reached the Final Four two years ago with Buddy Hield, then rebuilt with young, talented players last season. The players who scraped and clawed through the Big 12 last season now have an elite point guard in Young to tie it all together. The Sooners should be exciting to watch and much improved. A return to the NCAA Tournament is a legitimate goal.
Last season: 20-13, lost in first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Coach: Mike Boynton.
Conference: Big 12.
Who’s gone: G Jawun Evans. He was one of the nation’s best point guards last season, averaging 19.2 points and 6.4 assists per game before leaving early for the NBA; G Phil Forte, who averaged 13.3 points per game and was one of the best 3-point shooters in school history; F Leyton Hammonds, who started 32 of Oklahoma State’s 33 games last season.
Who’s back: F Jeffrey Carroll. He considered leaving for the NBA after his junior season but chose to stay put. He averaged 17.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last season and has been named preseason All-Big 12; G Lindy Waters III, who shot 44 percent from 3-point range as a freshman; C Mitchell Solomon, a steady senior who started 22 games last season; G Brandon Averette; G/F Davon Dillard.
Who’s new: G Zack Dawson, a four-star recruit who averaged 26.5 points and 8.0 rebounds as a senior at South Miami High School; F/C Yankuba Sima, a junior transfer from St. John’s who is expected to be eligible after the fall semester.
The Skinny: The Cowboys have distractions aplenty, with the bribery scandal already leading to assistant coach Lamont Evans’ dismissal. Add the loss of Evans and the fact that new coach Mike Boynton faces so many issues beyond basketball, and it could be a rough season for the Cowboys.
Who’s gone: F Anthony Livingston; F Aaron Ross; G Devon Thomas; F Matthew Temple; F Thomas Brandsma.
Who’s back: G Keenan Evans, the team’s top scorer at 15.4 points per game while shooting 43 percent on 3-pointers; F Zach Smith, who averaged 12.1 points and team-best 7.2 rebounds; F Justin Gray, who shot 53 percent from the field; G Niem Stevenson.
Who’s new: Most of the team with 11 newcomers. Seven are true freshmen along with junior college transfer guards Josh Webster and Hyron Edwards, and two Division I transfers, Tommy Hamilton IV from DePaul and Brandone Francis from Florida.
The Skinny: With five seniors and seven freshmen, Beard was spot-on when he said the team’s ”chemistry is a work in progress.” When the former Red Raiders assistant returned to Texas Tech last year as head coach, he brought in three graduate transfers among six new players. Whether the Raiders can get back to their second NCAA Tournament in 11 seasons will depend on how the seasoned seniors and the youngsters come together on the court.
Who’s gone: G Brandon Parrish, F Karviar Shepherd, F Chris Washburn, G Michael Williams.
Who’s back: All five starters: F Vladimir Brodziansky, a preseason all-Big 12 pick after averaging team-high 14.1 points with 5.7 rebounds last season; PG Jaylen Fisher (9.9 points, 4.0 assists); F JD Miller; G Alex Robinson; F Kenrich Williams (11.4 points, 9.7 rebounds), who missed the 2016-17 opener before returning to the court after more than 600 days away from competition because of injuries.
Who’s new: F Ahmed Hamdy, a graduate transfer from VCU, who is eligible to play immediately; Australian forwards Lat Mayen and Kouat Noi; G RJ Nembhard; JUCO transfer G Shawn Olden, a former top freshman at Pepperdine; C Kevin Samuel.
The Skinny: Dixon had an immediate impact at his alma mater after leaving Pittsburgh to return to Fort Worth. The Frogs won more than 20 games for the first time since 2004-05, and the NIT title. With all five starters back and some experienced newcomers, TCU is already getting noticed in the Big 12 – coaches picked them third in the preseason poll. They could make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998.
Who’s gone: G Sindarius Thorwell (senior), G Duane Notice (senior), G Justin McKie (senior), G P.J. Dozier (left for NBA draft after sophomore season), G Rakym Felder (dismissed after second arrest on assault charges in less than year).
Who’s back: F Chris Silva. The junior was a big part of the Final Four run, scoring in double figures in all five tournament games including a career-high 17 points in a win over Duke in the second round. F Maik Kotsar. The 6-foot-10 forward played 37 games as a freshman and added 15 pounds (up to 260) to better compete down low in the SEC.
Who’s new: G Kory Holden. A junior who transferred from Delaware and averaged 17.7 points a game his final year with the Blue Hens. He sat out last season due to NCAA rules. G Frank Booker. A graduate transfer who spent his first two seasons at Oklahoma and last year at Florida Atlantic before coming to the Gamecocks. G David Beatty. A 6-2 freshman who has impressed coaches with his quick pickup of the defense.
The Skinny: Frank Martin signed a contract extension in the offseason instead of bailing at the first true sign of success. That says the sixth-year coach is looking at the long haul with the Gamecocks and believes the program can get further than just the Final Four.
Who’s gone: F Bola Olaniyan (6.4 rpg), G Corban Collins (7.0 ppg), F Jimmie Taylor (5.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
Who’s back: G Braxton Key. Led Alabama in scoring as a freshman, averaging 12.0 ppg and 5.7 rpg. G Dazon Ingram averaged 10.5 ppg and led team in assists and 3-point percentage; only Tide player to start all 34 games. F Donta Hall provided size and rebounding inside, leading team in blocks and field goal percentage.
Who’s new: G Collin Sexton is a consensus Top 10 recruit, and the freshman is a second-team preseason All-SEC pick. G John Petty is a two-time Alabama Mr. Basketball out of Huntsville. They were the centerpieces of the program’s highest rated recruiting class, rated No. 5 by three major recruiting services. F/C Daniel Giddens sat out last season after transferring from Ohio State.
The Skinny: Appears to have a good shot at making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012 and second since 2006. A big reason for that is the arrival of Sexton and Petty, but there’s a strong returning nucleus, too, led by Key and Ingram. Picked to finish fourth in the SEC, the highest projection under Johnson.
Last season: 19-15, lost in first round of the NIT.
Coach: Mark Fox.
Who’s gone: G J.J. Frazier, F Houston Kessler, F Kenny Paul Geno, G Brandon Young.
Who’s back: F Yante Maten is SEC’s active career leader in points (1,250), rebounds (606) and blocked shots (149). He averaged 18.2 points and 6.8 rebounds as a junior. F Derek Ogbeidi is team’s leading returning rebounder (7.6). G Juwan Parker returns from his second Achilles tendon injury, one on each leg. Parker is second-leading returning scorer (9.3). The fifth-year senior is working on his second master’s degree. Jordan Harris and William ”Turtle” Jackson shared a starting job in backcourt.
Who’s new: Five-man freshman class includes G Rayshaun Hammonds and F Nicolas Claxton, the 6-foot-11 son of former Georgia and NBA center Charles Claxton. Junior Christian Harrison is a walk-on transfer who was a backup for two years at Troy.
The Skinny: Frazier will be missed as a leader and 3-point scorer. Maten, Ogbeidi and Parker form a strong base. Once again, Fox is under pressure to take Bulldogs to NCAA tournament. Fox has an impressive string of five straight seasons with .500 or better SEC records and had a streak of three straight 20-win seasons snapped last year, but too often his teams have settled for NIT berths. Georgia has only two NCAA bids in Fox’s eight seasons.
Last season: 18-14, lost to Missouri in first round of SEC tournament
Coach: Bruce Pearl
Who’s gone: G T.J. Dunans (8.2 ppg, 2nd in assists); G Ronnie Johnson (7.8 ppg, 3rd in assists).
Who’s back: G Mustapha Heron led team in scoring (15.2 ppg) and rebounding (6.1 rpg) last season; F Danjel Purifoy averaged 11.5 points and led team with 59 3-pointers; C Austin Wiley (8.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg); G Jared Harper (11.4 ppg, team-high 95 assists).
Who’s new: G Davion Mitchell is a four-star prospect and strong defender at the point. F Chuma Okeke, another four-star signee, averaged a double-double in points and rebounds during a four-game Italy tour.
The Skinny: The Tigers appeared poised to make a run at their first NCAA Tournament since 2003, but open with a cloud of uncertainty instead. Associate head coach Chuck Person has been arrested in a federal investigation for allegedly accepting bribes to steer Auburn pro prospects to a financial advisor after college. Part of that money allegedly went to families of two recruits, possibly leaving them ineligible. Auburn and investigators haven’t disclosed the players’ identity.
Last season: 32-6, reached NCAA Tournament South Region final.
Coach: John Calipari.
Who’s gone: G De’Aaron Fox, G Malik Monk, F Bam Adebayo (all NBA lottery picks); G Isaiah Briscoe, F Derek Willis, G Dominique Hawkins, G Mychal Mulder, F Isaac Humphries.
Who’s back: F Wenyen Gabriel. The 6-foot-9 sophomore started 23 of 38 games before his minutes dwindled in the postseason but returns as the Wildcats’ top scorer (4.6 points) and rebounder (4.8); Fs Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard, both 6-10, look for bigger roles this season.
Who’s new: G Hamidou Diallo. The mid-year enrollee who dressed but didn’t play flirted with entering the NBA Draft before deciding to return and get actual minutes. Calipari offset some of the departures with his usual crop of high school All-Americans: G Quade Green (6-0) and Fs Jarred Vanderbilt (6-9), Nick Richards (6-11), Kevin Knox (6-9) and P.J. Washington (6-7). Gs Jemarl Baker and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander were top-100 players as well.
The Skinny: The Wildcats’ latest roster turnover has left Calipari with perhaps his youngest group since arriving in Lexington eight years ago. With no veteran upperclassmen, Gabriel, Wynyard and Killeya-Jones must provide leadership while competing with the newcomers for minutes. Calipari’s immediate task is finding a floor general like John Wall and Tyler Ulis, but his history has shown things often work out. Having so much high-level talent is a problem any coach would love to have, though Calipari warns it might be ugly early on.
Last season: 10-21; second straight season with no postseason appearance.
Coach: Will Wade.
Who’s gone: G Antonio Blakeney, G Jalyn Patterson, F Elbert Robinson III, G Kieran Hayward.
Who’s back: F Duop Reath. The 6-11 senior is LSU’s top returning scorer and interior defender. He averaged 12 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game last season. G Brandon Sampson. The 6-5 junior was LSU’s third-leading scorer last season (11.6 points per game). He’ll play on the wing. G Skylar Mays. Started 25 games as a freshman last season, averaging 8.3 points, 3.6 assists and 1.3 steals. F Aaron Epps. The 6-10 senior started 19 games, averaged 6.2 points, 4.4 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game.
Who’s new: G Tremont Waters. The 5-11 freshman from New Haven, Connecticut, will start right away. The four-star prospect was named Gatorade Player of the Year for Connecticut last season and played in the Jordan Brand All-Star game. G Randy Onwuasor. The 6-3 graduate transfer was among the top scorers in the nation last season at Utah State, averaging 23.6 points. F Jeremy Combs. The 6-7 graduate transfer was injured much of his senior season at North Texas, where he played for current LSU assistant coach Tony Benford. In 14 games last season, Combs averaged 10.2 points and 6.4 rebounds.
The Skinny: The SEC preseason poll has LSU finishing last and Wade isn’t promising miracles in his first season. But he is pledging that his team won’t be outworked, will be fundamentally sound and have exceptional situational awareness. He also suggests that he has enough scoring to pull out games in which the Tigers keep it close.