Orlando Classic field offers stern test for Vols

The Orlando Classic bracket was announced on Tuesday, and Tennessee learned its first-round opponent. On Nov. 27, the Vols will get a crack at a former Tennessee assistant, Kerry Keating, now the head coach at Santa Clara. A win earns Tennessee a potential shot at Kansas, which plays Rhode Island in a first-round game.

Here’s another look at our earlier analysis of the Orlando field:

Georgia Tech—The Yellow Jackets suffered a setback when power forward Robert Carter decided to transfer to Maryland, but coach Brian Gregory has some bodies, including two returning starters in junior forward Marcus Georges-Hunt (11.7 ppg) and sophomore guard Corey Heyward, who started the last half of 2013-14 at the point.

Newcomers include East Carolina transfer Robert Sampson (9.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg in 2012-13); freshmen Ben Lammers (6-10, San Antonio, Texas); Tadric Jackson, the class 6A player of the year in Georgia; and Abdoulaye Gueye (6-10, Birmingham, Ala.); and 6-8, 276-pound Demarco Cox, a fifth-year senior from Ole Miss who will be immediately eligible. Tech coaches know what Cox is capable of—he dropped a career-high 15 points and 14 boards on the Yellow Jackets in a game last season.

Georgia Tech will also gain the services of USF transfer Josh Heath, whose father, Stan, was the head coach there before getting fired in March. The younger Heath averaged 2.6 points and 3.6 assists last season. There is precedent to suggest he could be eligible immediately. When Central Michigan fired Ernie Ziegler in 2012, his son Trey transferred to Pitt and was immediately eligible.

The Yellow Jackets may have lost Carter to Maryland, but they got back in trade Maryland’s Charles Mitchell, an Atlanta native who transferred to Tech to be closer to his ailing grandmother, who raised him. If the NCAA holds to form, Mitchell may be able to request a waiver and become immediately eligible. The 6-8 forward averaged 6.5 points and 6.3 rebounds last season.

Yet another transfer, 6-8 forward Nick Jacobs (Alabama), will have to sit out 2014-15.

Kansas—Here’s alittle stat that boggles the mind and tells all about the job Bill Self has done at Kansas. In Self’s tenure, which began in 2003, the Jayhawks have won more Big 12 championships (10 straight) than they’ve suffered homecourt defeats (175-9). Told you that was crazy.

No less an expert than ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, who works the network’s Big 12 telecasts, is picking Kansas to make it 11 Big 12 titles in a row in 2014-15, and that’s after losing two players who might have gone 1-2 in the NBA Draft had Joel Embiid not suffered a stress fracture in his foot.

There’s still plenty of talent in Lawrence, including junior forward Perry Ellis (13.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg), and sophomore guards Frank Mason (5.5 ppg, 2.0 apg) and Wayne Selden, Jr. (9.7 ppg, 2.5 apg) To that solid nucleus Self adds heralded freshmen Cliff Alexander, a power forward rated the No. 3 player in the country by ESPN and No. 4 by Rivals; small forward Kelly Oubre, rated No. 10 by ESPN and No. 12 by Rivals; and 6-10, 245-pound Arkansas transfer Hunter Mickelson.

In May, KU also shored up its backcourt with 6-2 freshman Devonte Graham, who originally signed with Appalachian State in 2012 before significantly boosting his stock playing at Brewster (N.H.) Prep in 2013-14; and 6-8 small forward Svi Mykhailiuk, a versatile native of the Ukraine.

“I think Devonte’ will be an immediate impact guy for us,” Self said. “That’s not to take away from the other guards we have, but this is a situation that we just got a lot better.”

Of Mykhailiuk Self said, “He’s a young man who will be so exciting to watch his growth because of his age, his intellect and his ‘want to.’ This guy really wants to be a player and really wants to do it here in the States.”

Marquette—Former Marquette coach Buzz Williams surprised a lot of people when he left for Virginia Tech, but he was reportedly unhappy with his administration. Word was that Williams coveted the Tennessee job, but when he didn’t think there was a possibility it would come open, he jumped for Tech, which some considered a less than lateral move.

Marquette is left to regroup with another in a growing list of former Duke assistants who have become head coaches, Steve Wojciechowski. The 37-year-old Woj played for Mike Krzyzewski and was on coach K’s staff since 1999, so he should be ready to run his own program.

Not surprisingly, the recruits that committed to Marquette or signed with Williams last November bolted, including Malek Harris (Kansas State), Ahmed Hill and 7-footer Satchel Pierce (Virginia Tech) and Canadian Marial Shayok (Virginia).

But with nine returning players, Wojciechowski and his staff didn’t have to scramble around and rebuild an entire team the way Tyndall and his assistants did at Tennessee.

Marquette did make one key pickup, though—fifth-year senior Matt Carlino, a BYU transfer who averaged 13.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.7 steals in leading the Cougars to the NCAA tournament, where they played a second-round game in BMO Harris Bradley Center, Marquette’s home court.

Carlino adds to a guard heavy roster that could have used Pierce but does gain the services of Indiana transfer Luke Fisher, a 6-11, 230-pound redshirt freshman who becomes eligible on Dec. 14, 2014. He was rated by ESPN as the No. 34 player and the No. 4 center in the class of 2012.

Gabe Levin, a 6-7 sophomore who averaged 11.1 points and 7.1 rebounds last season at Loyola Marymount, will sit out this season after transferring.

Michigan State—As usual, the Spartans of Tom Izzo will be an NCAA tournament team in 2014-15; they haven’t missed the Big Dance since 1997, a string of 17 consecutive appearances that includes the 2000 national championship, five other trips to the Final Four and two Elite Eights.

Few teams in the country suffered heavier personnel losses than the Spartans, including certain first-round NBA Draft picks Gary Harris and Adreian Payne and starting point guard Keith Appling. But MSU could exceed expectations if 6-6 senior Branden Dawson is ready to become a star and go-to guy, 6-5 junior Denzel Valentine assumes a leadership role, and 6-9, 240-pound Matt Costello evolves into a low-post threat.

Dawson (11.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg), who missed nine games with a broken hand last year, has an intriguing package of skills and is vital to the cause. Last season the Spartans were 24-4 when he played and 20-4 when he started.

Valentine (8.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.8 apg) was third in the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.1-1) and was also the only player in the league to rank in the top 12 in assists and rebounding.

Costello, with his 7-2 wingspan, can be a defensive presence (he finished 10th in the Big 10 in blocked shots last season), but he’ll need to shoulder some of the offensive load.

The Spartans didn’t rake in a top recruiting class, but ESPN analyst Paul Biancardi calls 6-5 shooting guard Jevon Bess the most impactful player in the country who was rated outside the top 100.

“Bess plays on the wing and possesses point-forward abilities, as he is long, athletic and constantly making plays with his high motor,” Biancardi wrote. “Bess can be productive not only in statistical areas but also in other facets of the game that don’t show up in the box score. He’s a great teammate, he brings energy to the game, gives energy to his teammates and handles the ball against pressure in the full court.”

Sounds like a typical Tom Izzo player.

Two transfers, Eron Harris (17.2 ppg, .422 3PT at West Virginia in 2013-14) and Bryn Forbes (14.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg, .406 3PT at Cleveland State), will sit out this season.

Rhode Island—Third-year coach Dan Hurley’s rebuilding efforts should pay dividends this season behind a young lineup that includes Atlantic 10 Co-Rookie of the Year E.C. Mathews (15.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg), a former four-star, top 100 player.

Joining Mathews is another 2013-14 A-10 All-Rookie team member, Hassan Martin (6.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg), and 6-8 senior Gilvydas Biruta 10.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg).

A talented recruiting classed is led by 6-2 shooting guard Jared Terrell a 6-3, 220-pound four-star recruit rated by ESPN as the No. 79 player and the No. 16 shooting guard in the class of 2014.

Rider—Guard play is the strength of this team, which finished 14-17 overall and 9-11 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference a year ago. Sophomore Jimmie Taylor III (12.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg 2.3 apg) started all season and made the MAAC All-Rookie team after leading the league in 3-point percentage (.469).

This season, the 6-3 Taylor, who had to play some point in 2013-14, could move over to the two spot because of the addition of VCU transfer Teddy Okereafor, one of three Division I transfers who will play for the Broncs this season.

Junior guard Zedric Sadler played through knee pain last season but still led the team in assists.

Santa Clara—Coached by former Tennessee and UCLA assistant Kerry Keating, the Broncos finished 14-19 a year ago while competing in the rugged West Coast Conference, which features Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU, among others.

Keating loses two of his two three scorers from last season but returns sophomore Jared Brownridge, who set seven school freshman season records and three game records while leading the team in scoring (17.2 ppg) and being voted the WCC Newcomer of the Year. The 6-2 Brownridge shot .436 from 3 and .862 from from the free-throw line. He scored a school freshman record 38 points at Pepperdine and was just the seventh player in program history to rack up three games of 30 points or more in a season.

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