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A bunch of quality UMass/A-10 preseason hoop nuggets, all in one place

I'm going to save you some time.

I've spent a fair amount of tonight reading national college basketball coverage. If you have the time, I recomment reading them all. But if you have either a job or a spouse that doesn't let you spend as much time doing that, here are Cliff's Notes:

Dana O'Neill's Atlantic 10 What I can't wait to see - ESPN

Is this the breakthrough year UMass fans have been waiting for?

Since Derek Kellogg returned to his alma mater in 2008, folks have been waiting for the glory years he enjoyed as a player to return to Amherst. Of course that would be a rather tall and ridiculous order, considering Kellogg went to the NCAA tournament four years in a row, including the Elite Eight, and won four consecutive Atlantic-10 regular-season and tournament titles as a player.

But this could at least be the year the Minutemen return to NCAA tournament relevance.

UMass rolled to the NIT semifinals last season, riding on the coattails of guard Chaz Williams. The Hofstra transfer averaged 16.4 points and 6.4 assists per game and is exactly the sort of bona fide star you can build something special around.

If Williams picks up where he left off (he upped his scoring numbers through the NIT to 21.8 per game), UMass might see itself on the big ticket for the first time since 1998.

CBS Sports' combination of Jeff Goodman, Gary Parrish and others have made the site a must visit for college hoop fans. Last week they released their: CBS' top 100 college basketball players

It included:
78. Chaz Williams, 5-9, 175, PG, Jr., Massachusetts
Man, Williams is fun to watch. He is an ideal fit for the Minutemen's system, given his quickness and ability to create points off turnovers. Led the team in points and assists last season. -- J.B.
Other players of note on the list that UMass could face this season:
19. Marcus Smart, 6-4, 225, G, Fr., Oklahoma State
Put simply, Smart will do whatever it takes to help his team get a win. He is not a natural point guard, but don’t be surprised if he runs the show for the Cowboys. The kid is a born leader. -- J.B.
21. C.J. Leslie , 6-9, 200, PF, Jr., N.C. State
Leslie nearly entered the NBA Draft after last season and genuinely had his coaching staff confused about his plans well into the process. He might've been a first-round pick, but it was no guarantee. His return might help Mark Gottfried win an ACC championship. -- G.P.
24. Le’Bryan Nash, 6-7, 230, SF, Soph., Oklahoma State
Undeniably talented, but if he had a more consistent shot and really mean streak, he’d be a borderline top-10 player on this list. If he puts up more than 15 points per game this year he’s gotta be gone. -- M.N.
25. Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 270, PF, Soph., Tennessee
This big-bodied post presence made an impact immediately last season despite joining the Vols midseason after graduating high school early. Now Stokes is a year older and stronger. Expect this Memphis native to big one of the best bigs in the SEC and the main reason Cuonzo Martin will make the NCAA Tournament in just his second year at Tennessee. -- G.P.
40. Lorenzo Brown, 6-5, 185, PG, Jr., North Carolina State
Brown is simply a playmaker who gets the ball where it needs to be. If that means getting into the lane to create his own shot, he can do that. If it means dishing it to a teammate, he can do that. -- J.B.

42. Mark Lyons, 6-1, 188, G, Sr., Arizona
Had an up-and-down career at Xavier, but is a big-time athlete. The question will be whether he can run a team and also be a quality leader. One thing is for certain, though: Lyons can score. -- J.G.

39. Aaric Murray, 6-10, 245, C, Jr., West Virginia
Had a couple of disappointing seasons at La Salle, but Bob Huggins may be the perfect solution to his problems. Murray is a talented, talented kid. Think NBA first-round talent. It just needs to be harnessed. -- J.G.

59. Vincent Council, 6-2, 180, PG, Sr., Providence
"Invaluable" is a word that comes to mind. Council played more than 93 percent of Providence's minutes last year, which you'd think would add up to fatigue, yet he boasted a top-10 national assist rate. Friars are hurting now because of injuries/eligibility issues to key players, so Council's role is even more pivotal. -- M.N.
61. Khalif Wyatt, 6'4, 210, SG, Sr., Temple
Offseason arrest aside, Wyatt is one of the best guards in the Atlantic 10. He is a big-time scorer who is efficient from the floor and can knock down shots from the perimeter. Also an underrated facilitator. -- J.B.

63. Rotnei Clarke, 6-0, 184, G, Sr., Butler
He's the best perimeter shooter in the country, but now he'll have to prove he's a point guard. The Arkansas transfer sat out last season and has one year under Brad Stevens and the Bulldogs. -- J.G.

68. Reggie Johnson, 6-10, 292, C, Sr., Miami
Johnson missed the first nine games last season and never really got back to where he was as a sophomore. But he's healthy now and should average nearly a double-double for the Hurricanes. -- G.P.
69. Jeronne Maymon, 6-7, 260, PF, Sr., Tennessee
Maymon next to Stokes provides UT with one of the nation's best front courts. The Milwaukee native had nine double-doubles last season including a 32-point, 20-rebound effort against Memphis. -- G.P.

73. D.J. Cooper , 6-0, 176, PG, Sr., Ohio
One of savviest, best pure point guards in college basketball. You remember his team; it went to the Sweet 16 last March and took UNC to overtime. -- M.N.

85. Richard Howell, 6-8, 257, PF, Sr., N.C. State
One teammate (Leslie) is a more celebrated veteran and another (Rodney Purvis) is a more celebrated newcomer. But don't sleep on Howell. He nearly averaged a double-double last season. -- G.P.

CBS also did their 68 things to watch for in college hoop this season. Here's the UMass-related highlights:

9. Atlantic 10 race: Although it's technically a non-BCS league, the Atlantic 10 has the potential to put as many as six teams in the NCAA tournament this year. Six teams got first-place votes in the preseason poll, and a case can be made for all six to win the league. That doesn't even count teams like La Salle and Dayton, who could sneak up and make a run. -- J.B.
22. Can Xavier be an overachieving underdog?: Xavier was picked ninth in the preseason Atlantic 10 poll, which is crazy but reasonable and the result of the Musketeers losing Tu Holloway, Mark Lyon, Kenny Frease and Dez Wells all in the same offseason. Chris Mack has never finished worse than third in the A-10. He'll need lots of surprising contributions to come anything close to that this season. -- G.P.
24. Smart and Nash at Oklahoma State: Both Marcus Smart (2012) and Le'Bryan Nash (2011) were top-10 prospects in their respective classes coming out of high school, but they're completely different players. Smart is a born winner and leader, someone who is willing to do whatever -- at any position -- to help his team win. On the other hand, Nash has had a tendency to coast during games and put his own numbers before the team. How will the two talents mesh? -- J.B.
33. Chaz Williams!: The 5-foot-9 (maybe) jitterbug is one of the most exciting players to watch in college basketball. He's also one of the best point guards in the game. He led the A-10 in assists and also ranked near the top in points and steals. If Massachusetts is to make a jump in the standings this season, Williams could be the reason. -- J.B.
41. Rick Majerus' health: Saint Louis' coach has stepped away for the season and maybe forever with a serious heart issue. Obviously, his health is the primary concern here -- but the Billikens have a chance to win the A-10. Even with Jim Crews at the helm. -- J.G.
42. How does Harvard respond?: Harvard ended a 65-year drought last season by reaching the NCAA tournament, and was expected to repeat this year. However, starters Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry were both implicated in an academic cheating scandal and will miss the season. Tommy Amaker still has some pieces, but it won't be easy to win the league again. -- J.B.
45. Rotnei Clarke: Butler's new point guard is the best shooter in the country. Rotnei Clarke left Arkansas with just one season of eligibility, sat out last season and now becomes Brad Stevens' floor leader. -- J.G.

Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis wrote about questions he had on he eve of the start of basketball practice. It included:

8. Is the Atlantic 10 the best conference in the country?
The question does not sound so ludicrous if you insert the word basketball before "conference" -- in which case the answer is a resounding yes. While the BCS leagues have been shifting their deck chairs in hopes of landing the biggest football payday, the Atlantic 10 has quietly upgraded its lineup as a basketball-centric conference. The league is losing Temple to the Big East and Charlotte to Conference USA, but those changes won't happen until next season. In the meantime, Butler and VCU, which have a combined three Final Four appearances the last three years, will begin playing right away.
That sets the stage for one of the most interesting conference races you will find anywhere. Six of the Atlantic 10's 16 schools garnered first place votes in the media's preseason poll. Saint Joseph's barely edged out Saint Louis for the top spot, which is a compelling narrative because the Billikens are without ailing head coach Rick Majerus the entire season. The Atlantic 10 has the potential to send as many as six teams to the NCAA tournament. If that's the case, there will be at least one so-called power conference with fewer representatives.
Even after Temple and Charlotte leave, the Atlantic 10 has set itself up well for the future. The other high-end mid-majors (Mountain West, Horizon and CAA) have all been diminished by realignment. I know the Atlantic 10 doesn't like to think of itself as a midmajor conference, but in today's climate, if you're not a football league, then that's what you are. The difference is that the Atlantic 10 has embraced its identity instead of trying to expand its way out of it. It has been a necessary but smart strategy.

CBS' bounce back players:
Cady Lalanne and Sampson Carter, UMass
Lalanne sat out in 2010-11 due to academics and dealt with ongoing foot issues last season. The talented big man fractured his foot prior to the season and then re-injured it midway through the year and was done for the year. Lalanne could fill a hole role for Derek Kellogg in the middle with the departure of veteran Sean Carter. Sampson Carter, who averaged 8.6 points two years ago, redshirted last season after suffering a hip injury.

Josh Benson, Dayton

The Flyers forward was the team's second-leading scorer (10.9) and rebounder (5.2) when he went down with a torn ACL in late-December. Benson's return could make Archie Miller's team NCAA tournament-caliber this season.

Scootie Randall, Temple

The 6-foot-6 wing probably could have played down the stretch last season, but didn't want to burn an entire year for just a few games. His return from offseason knee surgery will certainly help Fran Dunphy and the Owls as Randall averaged 10.7 points and 4.7 boards two years ago. With the emergence of Khalif Wyatt, Temple should be set at the wing spots.

Jean-Paul Olukemi, Oklahoma State

Talented forward who averaged 11.1 points two years ago and was putting up 9.4 points last season before suffering a season-ending torn ACL on Dec. 31. With Olukemi back and the addition of freshman guard Marcus Smart, it's difficult to imagine the Cowboys not being a factor in the Big 12 race this year

J.T. Thompson, Charlotte

It's hard to predict his impact in his first year with the 49ers and final season in college. He has missed the past two years at Virginia Tech following ACL surgeries. Thompson averaged 6.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in his first three seasons in Blacksburg and 7.3 points his junior campaign. He then sat out the 2010-11 campaign with a torn ACL in his left knee and missed last season after surgery on the other knee.


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