UNC report: Sham classes pushed

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22

A report commissioned by the University of North Carolina says school academic advisers steered athletes into sham classes over an 18-year period but does not directly implicate coaches or athletic administrators in the scheme.

The report, released Wednesday, says academic advisers in North Carolina's athletic department colluded with a manager in the African and Afro-American Studies department for student-athletes to take classes to boost their GPAs and keep them eligible in their respective sports.

The classes, in place from 1993 to 2011, were overseen by Debby Crowder, the longtime manager in the African and Afro-American Studies department, and later by the department chairman. They allowed a student to write a paper of at least 10 pages rather than attend lectures or meet with professors. The papers were graded by Crowder, who was not a professor. They typically earned an A or B-plus grade.

The report, the third and most comprehensive produced in the matter, said some academic advisers in the school's Academic Support Program for Student Athletes had ties to Crowder and let her know how high a student's grade needed to be to maintain a 2.0 GPA to be eligible to play. It also said that those advisers pushed Crowder to make exceptions for athletes, including allowing them to enroll in classes after the registration period had ended.

The ASPSA is not part of the athletic department but is located in the same offices. The report says it clearly steered players to the sham classes.

When Crowder retired in 2009, Julius Nyang'oro, the former chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies department, was urged to maintain the program. He was forced to retire in 2012 and was charged with fraud for holding summer classes that didn't exist. Those charges were dropped when he agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

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Kentucky, Arizona 1-2 in coaches poll

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16

Kentucky was tabbed as the preseason No. 1 in the Coaches Poll for the second straight season, six months after losing in the national title game to Connecticut.

The USA Today Coaches Poll was released Thursday, with the Wildcats grabbing the No. 1 spot ahead of Arizona. The Sporting News' preseason magazine had Arizona as its top team.

The Associated Press Top 25 is expected to be released on Oct. 31.

Duke, Wisconsin and Kansas completed the top five. The Badgers lost to Kentucky in the Final Four last April at AT&T Stadium in North Texas, and on Thursday they were picked to win the Big Ten by the league's media.

Kentucky and Duke have long been projected to have two of the top incoming classes in the country, with Arizona holding one of the top returning teams.

North Carolina, with likely first-team all-American Marcus Paige back at the point, leads the second half of the top 10, followed by Final Four participant Florida, ACC regular-season and tournament champion Virginia, new ACC member Louisville and Texas. The Longhorns have one of the top newcomers in the country in center Myles Turner.

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Top 10 Thursday: Important shooters

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15

Terry RozierJoe Robbins/Getty Images

There is no arguing that big men will be the big men on campus this season, but what makes a good big man even better? An outside shooter who can keep defenses honest.

That's where these guys come in.

Now, these are not necessarily the best 3-point shooters in college basketball.

Repeat. These are not necessarily the best 3-point shooters in college basketball.

This, however, is what they are: the players who need to shoot well in order for their team to succeed.

1.Terry Rozier, Louisville Cardinals

Luke Hancock is gone, taking with him the lone reliable outside threat on last season's Cardinals team. As tough as Montrezl Harrell will be inside, someone has to stretch the defense to give him room to breathe. Rozier, who shot 41 percent from outside the arc in league games a season ago, is the best bet to be that someone.

2. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky Wildcats

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Stilman White, last seen starting in the 2012 Elite Eight for an injured Kendall Marshall, missed the past two seasons while participating in a Mormon mission.

Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, White didn't miss out on any postseason success during his hiatus.

White, whose only two career starts have come in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, remains the lone Tar Heel to play in a game beyond the NCAA tournament's first weekend.

The Heels, for the first time during coach Roy Williams' tenure, have been bounced from the tournament's first weekend in consecutive seasons. But their recent history hasn't discouraged UNC players from openly talking about the Final Four this season.

"Obviously it hasn't come from the coaches like sitting down in a meeting, like we have to go to Indianapolis, get to the Final Four," Marcus Paige said. "But when we work out, we talk about it and we have that as a realistic goal, and I think we should. We'll maintain that as a realistic goal as long as we keep working the way we are."

Paige is a major reason their confidence is not limited by their postseason experience. The junior point guard, a national player of the year and All-America candidate, led the team in scoring (17.5 points per game) and assists (4.2) last season.

Carolina was limited offensively in 2013-14, but Paige will have more help this season. A three-man freshman class -- led by Justin Jackson and ranked No. 3 by ESPN RecruitingNation -- will help give Williams the depth and flexibility the Tar Heels lacked on the wing last season.

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IndianaJoe Robbins/Getty Images

Since 2011, when Oregon debuted its Tinker Hatfield-designed "Tall Firs" court at Matthew Knight Arena, the nation's college basketball courts have taken a sharp turn for the ugly. Monstrous silhouettes are the dominant design aesthetic. Oversized logos lumber from key to key like late-career Rasheed Wallace. No joke, somebody actually convinced San Jose State that this was a good idea.

The desire to elicit any kind of reaction is the reason these courts exist in the first place, and we've written plenty about this indefensible trend in recent seasons. Unfortunately, that means we've spent far less time praising the best court designs in college hoops.

Today, that injustice is corrected. The following list -- populated as it is by simple, striking, timeless designs -- is proof that basketball can be beautiful even when no one's playing.

1. Assembly Hall, Indiana

How sacred is Indiana's court? In 2012, when the Big Ten added required logos to the free throw line, Indiana fans were slightly ticked. And why not? The Hoosiers' home floor is the granddaddy of college courts, a perfect design whose timelessness testifies to the depth of the state's relationship with the game. Adding a conference logo is like putting an "Only at the Louvre!" sticker on the Mona Lisa. May it ever be so.

2. Dean E. Smith Center, North Carolina

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Nearly two years ago, three days before the biggest game of his life, the BCS National Championship against Alabama, Everett Golson let the nation in on a little secret.

"Obviously basketball is my love, that's what I love," Golson said down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, "But my primary right now is football. I'd like to say I would like to have the chance of playing basketball someday [in South Bend]. But like I said, football is my primary, and what I'm focused on right now is the national championship."

"He's pretty good at his hobby, this being his hobby," then-Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin added. "Primary love basketball is just what he does on the side, he's actually pretty decent at."

Everett Golson
Courtesy of DeAndre' ScottEverett Golson (shooting) played point guard in high school, helping his squad at Myrtle Beach High win an AAA state title.
How decent? Golson was at the very least a Division I talent, according to those who coached him at the prep level. Notre Dame's redshirt junior quarterback is on the Heisman Trophy short list as he readies the No. 6 Irish for a date Saturday with North Carolina. A Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, native, Golson had initially pledged to the Tar Heels' basketball program in February 2010. He had spoken with legendary coach Roy Williams, and there was a strong possibility that he would have spent his winters in Chapel Hill on the hardwood, before the football team's NCAA investigation and a trip to Notre Dame eventually forced him to flip his commitment.

Hoops aspirations never materialized with the Irish, though things have worked out pretty well for the man who, with a 15-1 career record as a starter, boasts the highest win percentage of any quarterback in Irish history (.9375).

"If he was doing something else right now other than quarterbacking a top-[six] team, I probably would have been disappointed, just because the kid was so, so talented, such a good athlete at basketball. I knew he could've been a Division I kid," former Myrtle Beach High hoops coach DeAndre Scott said. "But to see him be able to do the things he's doing at football -- which at the time, I'll be honest with you, when he was a freshman or sophomore, he was a kid that really didn't like football nearly as much. But people who were around knew the things he could do on the football field were just unreal in comparison to where he was as a basketball player at that time."

Golson was, naturally, a point guard. He began with a suspect jump shot, Scott said, and the perfectionist in the player made for some early growing pains, as he would get too down on himself after misses. Still, as a freshman he rose to a starting role down the season's stretch, helping lift Myrtle Beach to a state title. He played one more season for Scott, then another for new coach Craig Martin, before his early enrollment at Notre Dame cost him his senior hoops season.

"He was a really talented kid, good athlete," Scott said. "I always thought he was more of a pass-first point guard, a guy who can really see the floor. He liked getting other guys involved, but he was such a good athlete. He could still score the basketball for you."

During the Beach Ball Classic during Golson's sophomore year, he scored 16 in an eight-point loss to a Martin Luther King (Calif.) team that was led by Kawhi Leonard, the MVP of this past June's NBA Finals. The summer before his senior year, Golson traveled around the country to various quarterback camps before returning to point guard on his AAU team, the South Carolina Ravens, all the way to the 17 and under national title game, before falling to the Arkansas Wings.

The Ravens' roster featured starters such as South Carolina tight end Jerell Adams and Clemson hoops guard Damarcus Harrison, and it had UNC forward Brice Johnson and Seton Hall forward Rashed Anthony coming off the bench.

"I probably had the best NFL team that was playing basketball," Ravens founder and coach Dion Bethea quipped.

While Golson was on a redshirt his first year at Notre Dame, the basketball bug bit, and coach Brian Kelly said that the staff had to rein that itch in.

"I think that he still has a love for the game," Kelly said Tuesday. "But I think that now has changed because of his focus on being the quarterback here. But no, in his first year here, he was a handful. He always wanted to go out and play a little basketball."

Golson has said that he would at times decompress by shooting around some with Martin, his position coach, who is now the head coach at Miami (Ohio).
His hoops exploits may be a thing of the past, but the stories still carry some weight around campus and in his locker room.

"I haven't played basketball with him yet but I've heard myths, legends," said Irish receiver Corey Robinson, the son of Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson. "He's an incredible basketball player, from my understanding. But I've never played with him. I'm not good enough. He's on another level."

Top matchup nightmares for 2014-15 

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

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

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

Delon Wright | G | Utah Utes

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

Wildcats lead preseason top 40

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30

Andrew Harrison, Aaron HarrisonKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe return of the Harrison twins helps make the Wildcats prohibitive favorites.

I cannot wait for the 2014-15 college hoop season to tip off, baby!

While it's nice to have a few months away from the sport, I am pumped up and ready to go. There are many quality teams, and it is time to dish out my preseason Top 40.

I know that a few of these picks will generate controversial responses. I expect tweets from the fans of schools that were left out. That's the fun thing about sports; you can debate the best of the best, and at the end of the season, you can go back and reflect on your predictions.

Here we go, my breakdown of the top 40:

1. Kentucky: John Calipari has nine McDonald's All-Americans on his roster. Are you serious? Most coaches would be thrilled to have one or two. The Cats have a nice blend of experience with the Harrison twins, Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein & Co., who are joined by a solid group of diaper dandies. Calipari will find a way to keep everyone happy with their minutes, and more importantly, he'll win.

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UNC set to contend for ACC crown

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23

North Carolina Tar Heels

2013-14: 24-10 (13-5 ACC)
In-conference offense: 1.08 points per possession (fifth)
In-conference defense: 1.01 points allowed per possession (fourth)

When North Carolina won a national title in 2009, the Tar Heels had the No. 21-ranked defense in the country in Ken Pomeroy's ratings. And, symmetrically enough, last season when UNC was bounced out of the NCAA tournament after the round of 32 as a vanquished No. 6 seed, this defense was rated -- you guessed it -- No. 21 in the nation.

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Isaiah Hicks' performance in the 2013 North Carolina 3A state championship game ranks among the state’s best ever regardless of classification.

The game earned Hicks instant-legend status in the state’s prep circles. It also punctuated all the accolades he received, like being named a McDonald’s All American and the state’s 2013 Gatorade Player of the Year.

His stat line that day -- 34 points, 30 rebounds -- helped power Oxford (N.C.) Webb High School to the title.

It also elevated the expectations last season for Hicks' at North Carolina.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Hicks, Anthony Monaco
Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCTSigns point to North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks making a much bigger impact this coming season.
His freshman-year transition to college hoops didn't turn out to be an easy one. His total points and total rebounds for the Tar Heels last season barely surpassed what he did in that state championship game.

Hicks' stat line from last season -- 42 points, 35 rebounds -- was modest considering he was one of seven Carolina players who appeared in every game.

But there is no need to wonder if the pundits got it wrong on Hicks. He could very well be the Heels’ most improved player this season and start having the impact many envisioned he would have when he came out of high school.

The biggest difference for Hicks, arguably even more important than having a year of experience, is a move back to his natural position.

Last season, he was forced to attempt to play small forward for the Heels. He didn’t have the skill set to do it, and it made for an awkward adjustment. Hicks lacked the instincts of a small forward and he couldn’t hide it. He often spent the 7.3 minutes he averaged on the floor looking as if he were literally thinking through his responsibilities as opposed to anticipating his next moves.

Hicks told reporters in July that he didn’t get frustrated last season playing out of position because he viewed it as a sacrifice for the team.

He won’t be asked to make such a sacrifice this season.

The addition of freshmen wings Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson means Hicks will no longer be needed as a reserve at small forward. The departure of James Michael McAdoo means more playing time will be available at power forward.

Hicks played the post while he was putting up big numbers in high school. With Brice Johnson likely the front-runner to start at power forward, Hicks is poised to be the first off the bench to replace him.

That was the case during North Carolina's trip to the Bahamas last month, when Johnson tweaked his ankle and played just seven minutes in two games. Hicks led the Heels in scoring in each of those games with 11 and 19 points.

While it’s a stretch to believe Hicks will lead the team in scoring when the games start to count, what those island games indicated is that Hicks will make himself a factor. He will be better-suited to defend the post than he was on the wing against quicker opponents. He runs the floor better than most power forwards. He doesn’t need his play called to score -- Hicks can make a considerable living off rebounds and putbacks.

That likely won’t earn him a legendary stat line. But it will make all remember why Hicks was a coveted recruit in the first place.
UNC/MarylandBob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsNorth Carolina junior guard Marcus Paige is arguably the top floor leader in the country.
It’s hard to imagine the North Carolina Tar Heels "flying under the radar," but lately when the discussion turns to the elite teams and programs heading into the 2014-15 season, you rarely hear Roy Williams’ squad mentioned. This is a program that won a national championship as recently as 2009 and, after missing the tournament in 2010, made consecutive Sweet 16 appearances in 2011 and 2012.

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

But I believe this year will be different.

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Where are UNC's outside shooters?

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
There are plenty of reasons North Carolina should be excited about this season.

Marcus Paige is one of the best point guards in college basketball. (Ask Connecticut how invaluable that can be.)

The Tar Heels' big men Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson should be among the best scoring and rebounding duo of post players in the ACC. Meeks also has proved to possess an added weapon of the outlet pass, which is crucial for a team that likes to run as much as Carolina does.

Junior forward J.P. Tokoto is the lone player returning in the league who made the all-defensive team last season.

And with a recruiting class ranked No. 3 by RecruitingNation, the Heels have depth at every position.

It all adds up to Carolina likely vaulting into a preseason top-10 team on paper. It should compete for an ACC title and be right up there among the Final Four contenders.

There’s just one not-so-slight problem that could keep the Heels from accomplishing those feats. For now, forget the fact that they had one of the worst free throw shooting teams in program history last season. That was partly because of James Michael McAdoo, who shot over 100 more free throws more than the next closest teammate. McAdoo is gone along with his 53.7 free throw percentage.

The question that should scare those in Chapel Hill is where is the outside shooting going to come from outside of Paige?

Paige is their lone proven shooter. He led the team in 3-point percentage last season converting 38.9 percent of his attempts. With the departure of Leslie McDonald, Paige is the only returning player on the roster to reach double digits in 3-pointers. His 2.5 average makes per game is second in the ACC among returnees only to Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney.

Paige accounted for almost 60 percent of the Heels' made 3-pointers last season. That’s why they ranked 339th nationally out of 345 NCAA Division I teams with just 4.3 made 3s per game.

Tokoto was 8-for-36 (22.2 percent) and Nate Britt made 3 of 12 (25.0 percent), but obviously neither player commanded a full closeout from opposing defenders. Tokoto’s midrange game improved toward the end of last season, but that may be his limit. Britt’s shooting from behind the arc is a total mystery given his switch from shooting left-handed last season to right this season.

With limited options from 3-point range, Carolina’s 434 attempts were the fewest 3-pointers in program history since the NCAA adopted the line in 1986-87. (That does not include 302 attempts in the 1982-83 season when the ACC played with an experimental line.)

Carolina might have to wait until the 2015 class to get a pure shooter on its roster. But it would settle for any of the freshmen emerging as a threat.

At 6-foot-7, Justin Jackson has no problem shooting over smaller defenders. He’s comfortable at shooting guard or small forward and has shown enough promise that he could develop into a viable 3-point option alongside Paige. If freshman wing Theo Pinson and point guard Joel Berry II can make enough to keep defenses honest, it could change the entire scouting report for opponents.

Many teams played zone against the Heels last season, a few resorted to exotic defenses such as a box-and-one to contest Paige on the perimeter, but allow anyone else to shoot from deep. (Texas even ran a triangle-and-two, choosing to defend Paige and McDonald.)

Carolina should again expect to see a lot of zone this season as teams pack it in and dare anyone but Paige to prove he can shoot from outside.
Glancing over the many challenges of North Carolina’s schedule prompted coach Roy Williams to say, “This one may be a little off the charts.”

The Tar Heels face a nonconference slate that’s highlighted by the Battle 4 Atlantis with a field that could lead to potential matchups against Oklahoma or UCLA and Florida or Wisconsin. The marquee games continue at home against Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago’s United Center against Ohio State.

Both of those games are sandwiched around a trip to Lexington to face Kentucky on Dec. 13.

In a released statement, Williams said the advantages of being successful against a tough nonconference schedule can be “enormous.”

“If you have some success, you can say that I am more prepared than just about anybody to get into conference play and that’s what we are trying to do,” Williams said. “In the pre-conference, get ready for conference play, but also to play some of those national-type games to measure yourself to see how you can do outside the league as well. It is planned to try and get better, get better, get better so that you are hopefully playing your best basketball at the end of the season, when it’s the most important.”

North Carolina opens against its other Durham rival, N.C. Central. The Eagles are coming off their first NCAA tournament appearance last season.

The “All in the Family” portion of the schedule includes dates against former Carolina players or coaches. It starts at home on Dec. 7 against East Carolina, coached by Jeff Lebo, who lettered from 1985-89; Dec. 16 versus UNC Greensboro, coached by Wes Miller, who lettered from 2004-07; Dec. 27 against UAB, coached by Jerod Haase, who played for Williams at Kansas and served on his UNC staff when he arrived in 2003 until 2012; Dec. 30 against William and Mary, coached by William Shaver, who lettered from 1972-75.

The ACC schedule is highlighted by a tough, five-game stretch that entails four road games including at Louisville, Pittsburgh and Duke. The Heels haven’t had a stretch like that since Dean Smith’s final season in 1997. It will mean 19 days away from home between facing Virginia on Feb. 2 and Georgia Tech on Feb. 21. The silver lining during that span is that the Heels have a week off between the Boston College and Pitt road games.

The Heels play Louisville, NC State, Georgia Tech and Duke twice in league play. Their road-only games are Clemson, Wake Forest, Boston College and Miami. Their home-only opponents are Florida State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Syracuse.

North Carolina landed a top-five recruiting class and, with the return of national player of the year candidate Marcus Paige, will likely be ranked in the preseason Top 10. The season begins, in earnest, on Oct. 3 with the team’s annual “Late Night with Roy” celebration.

At least 20 of the Tar Heels’ regular-season games will be televised on the ESPN family of networks.

“The season is a long journey,” Williams said. “… We are going to have some incredible opportunities or incredible challenges; it depends on the way you want to look at it.”

ACC morning links

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
It is nearly time to begin preparing for Week 1 matchups. Does it surprise anybody that there are still unanswered questions at quarterback for three Coastal Division contenders?

Miami held a scrimmage Monday night in which true freshman Brad Kaaya continued to impress, throwing two touchdown passes. Transfer Jake Heaps, competing for the starting job, sat out the scrimmage to rest his arm. Coach Al Golden has repeatedly said he would name his starter following both scrimmages. Kevin Olsen is suspended for at least the opener; Kaaya played in both scrimmages; Heaps in just one. Do we read anything into where this leads headed into the opener against Louisville?

Meanwhile in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, coach Larry Fedora said he will not publicly announce his starter before kickoff against Liberty on Aug. 30. Returning starter Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky have been in a dogged competition. The Tar Heels will begin game prep Wednesday.

"We'll make a decision before the 30th," Fedora said. "I mean, you guys won't know it. But we will make a decision before the 30th. We'll start as we get into the game-planning, we'll have a plan what we're going to do and how we're going to implement it and those guys will be aware of it.

"It won't be like we walk out there on the 30th and I flip a coin and throw one of them out there."

Finally, the race to start at Virginia Tech is down to Michael Brewer and Mark Leal. Brenden Motley, who left the spring No. 1 on the depth chart, has been dealing with back issues throughout fall camp and has fallen out of the competition. Brewer and Leal split first-team reps during a weekend scrimmage, but a decision remains up in the air.

Now here is quick look at other headlines across the ACC:
Last season began with a variety of contenders for the Wooden Award, one of college basketball’s honors for national player of the year. But Doug McDermott seized the lead early and maintained it for the bulk of the season.

That race lacked the drama of past years because McDermott trounced the field in the first 100 meters and suppressed any doubts about the final outcome.

[+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesDoug McDermott ran away with the Wooden Award last season, but this year's race looks to be more wide open.
Things are different for 2014-15. And that’s why I can’t wait to see how this season’s Wooden Award race evolves.

We don’t have a McDermott-like front-runner who has a clear advantage over the field. Yeah, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell will certainly crack the Wooden Award’s preseason list. Maybe they’ll be the only two in the mix in the final weeks of the season. But newcomers such as Duke’s Jahlil Okafor could make noise too.

And other players who played Robin last season will be Batman in 2014-15 -- see Caris LeVert and Ryan Boatright -- moves that could change the Wooden Award competition.

This thing seems so open right now. So many contenders and possibilities.

Proof? Check out these lists.

My top Wooden Award contenders (returning players)

  1. Frank Kaminsky -- Wisconsin star is one of the toughest players to defend due to his size and range, and he’s back for another run.
  2. Montrezl Harrell -- Louisville center is bigger, stronger and faster even though he was bigger, stronger and faster than everyone last season.
  3. Marcus Paige -- Averaged 17.5 points per game and 4.2 assists per game for North Carolina last season, but he’ll have more help and the potential for a more productive year.
  4. Fred Van Vleet (or Ron Baker) -- Wichita State’s point guard finished fourth nationally with a 4.02 assist-to-turnover ratio, and he’ll take on a bigger scoring role this year. But Baker, a future pro wing, could ultimately represent Wichita State in the Wooden Award mix.
  5. Branden Dawson -- Tom Izzo’s team will be built around the sturdy, skilled 6-foot-6 forward who was a McDonald’s All-American before injuries interrupted his progress.
  6. Georges Niang -- Iowa State power forward excels with an IQ and arsenal few bigs can match, and he’s healthy again after suffering a foot injury during last season’s NCAA tournament.
  7. Andrew Harrison -- Kentucky point guard will lead the deepest frontcourt in the country and most talented roster in America.
  8. Ryan Boatright -- Had 14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in win over Kentucky in national title game, and now UConn is his squad.
  9. Chasson Randle -- The Stanford guard averaged 18.7 PPG and shot 39 percent from the 3-point line for a Cardinal team that reached the Sweet 16 last season.
  10. Juwan Staten -- If you haven’t heard of Staten (18.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 5.8 APG, 40 percent from the 3-point line for West Virginia last season), you will. Soon.
My top Wooden Award contenders (freshmen)

  1. Jahlil Okafor -- Duke big man has great hands and mobility.
  2. Cliff Alexander -- Kansas freshman is trapped in a grown man’s body.
  3. Karl Towns/Tyler Ulis -- Kentucky first-year players turned heads during recent Bahamas tour.
  4. Stanley Johnson -- Linebacker who decided to play basketball at Arizona.
  5. Kevon Looney -- Perhaps the next great UCLA freshman.
My top Wooden Award contenders (sleepers)

  1. Wayne Selden Jr. -- KU star averaged 10.2 PPG next to Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, but now he’s the man in Lawrence.
  2. Marcus Foster -- The sophomore could be one of America’s breakout stars after leading Kansas State to the tourney last season.
  3. Kentucky -- Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Aaron Harrison … take your pick. The whole team is a contender.
  4. Brandon Ashley -- Arizona forward is healthy now after missing a chunk of last season with a foot injury.
  5. Caris LeVert -- The 6-6 standout will be the next Michigan wing to turn pro and carry the Wolverines to Big Ten title contention.

This list is missing a bunch of players (Sorry, Terran Petteway, Malcolm Brogdon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson). But the field is just that deep and open.

I don’t know how this year’s Wooden Award race will play out, but I can’t wait to see it.