School: UTEP Miners
Class: Junior | Position: Center
Height: 6-10 | Weight: 210
Hometown: Lancaster, Texas
2012 Averages: 11.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, .9 BPG, 1.7 APG
Career Averages: 8.2 PPG, 5.9 RPG, .9 BPG, 1.2 APG
Tim Floyd's club would like to move forward and forget last season, when it finished 15-17 and 7-9 in Conference USA play, tied for eighth. Junior center John Bohannon will toast to that. He'll also do his part to toast opposing centers in helping UTEP get back to the 25-win form of 2010. Personally, Bohannon had a solid season last year, leading the team in scoring, rebounding and blocks while tying for the team lead in free throws made (he was second in free throws attempted, one behind team leader Michael Perez). The Lancaster, Texas, native, ranked in the top 10 in Conference USA in field goal percentage (.585, third), defensive rebounds (5.5 rpg, sixth) and total rebounds (7.3, eighth). While the Miners had trouble scoring last season, finishing 10th in C-USA, Bohannon was consistent all season and finished with a flourish. Over the final 22 games, he averaged 13.4 points and 8.0 rebounds, scoring in double-digits 17 times. For his career, he leads the Miners with 27 career double-digit-scoring games, nine more than the nearest teammate. He also hit the boards, leading the team in rebounds 15 times. Bohannon's production, as well as his leadership and experience, will be invaluable, as he and senior point guard Jacques Streeter are the only upperclassmen in a starting lineup that starts three sophomores.
Key Stat: 62
While Bohannon's offensive game in the paint gets most of the attention, he also is a presence on D. He has 62 blocks in 65 career games and started the season in 13th place on UTEP's career blocks list. He's 13 away from moving into the top 10.
Did You Know: Bohannon became the first player in UTEP history to shoot 100 percent both from the field (minimum seven attempts) and the foul line (minimum six attempts) in the same game, when he went 7-for-7 and 6-for-6 from the line, last Jan. 14 against SMU. Bohannon had 20 points and eight rebounds in the 70-64 overtime victory.
School: Clemson Tigers
Class: Senior | Position: Forward/Center
Height: 6-8 | Weight: 250
Hometown: Whitmire, S.C.
2012 Averages: 10.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.3 APG
Career Averages: 7.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG, .8 APG
When it comes to filling the lane, few in the ACC do it better than Devin Booker. The senior big is tough to move once he settles in and tougher to stop once he gets the ball around the basket (as illustrated by his 47 dunks last season). Booker's 47 slams were the eighth-most in a season in school history and three more than older brother, Trevor, ever put home in a season. But Booker can do more than slam the ball; he has improved his passing, recording a career-best 39 assists last season. He is as much of a force in the lane defensively, as between his size and 37 1/2-inch vertical he's difficult to keep off the boards. He headed into 2012-13 fourth in rebounding among active ACC players — behind Duke's Mason Plumlee, NC State's Richard Howell, and Miami's Reggie Johnson. Booker led or tied for the team lead in rebounding 18 times last season and grabbed his 500th career rebound in this year's season opener against Presbyterian. Booker also is a deterrent to anyone driving the lane, as he swatted away a career-best 29 shots last season. The Tigers, who were picked eighth in ACC Preseason polls, their lowest ranking since 2006-07, will look to Booker, who had five of the team's six double-doubles last season, and fellow senior forward Milton Jennings to dominate up front.
Key Stat: 82
Booker was huge on the offensive glass last season, ripping down 82 caroms. That ranked eighth in the ACC and was 33 more than the nearest teammate. It easily led the Tigers, who finished eighth in the conference in that category.
Did You Know: Devin and his brother, Trevor, were the first brothers to play together at Clemson since Harvey and Horace Grant, who played in 1984-85. Both Grants played in the NBA and Trevor is currently playing with the NBA's Washington Wizards. Sense a trend?
Class: Junior | Position: Forward
Height: 6-7 | Weight: 227
Hometown: Charlotte, N.C.
2012 Averages: 15.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG
Career Averages: 12.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG
The defending Southern Conference Player of the Year is expected to keep his crown and key the Wildcats' holding on to theirs atop the SoCon South. Brooks was a demon last season, helping the Wildcats to their fourth 25-win season in the last six years and 11th conference title and sixth in the McKillop era. Brooks hit a conference-high 202 field goals, scoring 518 points (second), while shooting a team-best 53 percent, 36.8 from three. He also grabbed 206 rebounds, 80 on the offensive end, both team-highs. It added up to his being named Honorable Mention All-America. Brooks will be a key part of an experienced group that returns all five starters and top eight scorers from a year ago. Personally, Brooks has 1,000 career points and 500 rebounds easily within his grasp (he needs 204 points and 142 boards). Last year he led the Wildcats in rebounding 15 times (they were 10-5 in those game) and played some of his best ball at the end of the season, earning MVP of the SoCon Tournament, scoring 56 points (18.7 ppg), on .575 shooting (23-for-40), and .800 from the foul line (8-for-10, including all seven attempts in the final two games). With Brooks playing next to 2010 Southern Player of the Year, Jake Cohen, Davidson may present its biggest NCAA Tournament threat since the Elite Eight team in 2008, led by Stephen Curry.
Key Stat: 107
Coach Bob McKillop would like to see No. 24's hand go up a little less frequently following a referee's whistle. Brooks led the Southern Conference in personal fouls last season, with 107. He fouled out of six games and walked the tight rope with four fouls on 10 other occasions.
Did You Know: Brooks was one of only four players to rank in the top 10 in the Southern Conference in scoring, where he ranked third, rebounding, where he was fourth, and field goal percentage, where he was third, last season.
School: Gonzaga Bulldogs
Class: Senior | Position: Forward
Height: 6-8 | Weight: 240
Hometown: Speyer, Germany
2012 Averages: 13.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.2 APG, .8 BPG
Career Averages: 13.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, .5 BPG
In the West Coast Conference, Harris is the chairman of the boards. The senior is on both the Naismith and John Wooden Award Preseason Watch lists and is the WCC's leading returning rebounder and the seventh-leading returning scorer (just a tick behind Zags' sophomore guard Kevin Pangos). The All-West Coast Conference First-Teamer last season will have a huge hand in leading Gonzaga to its 15th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance this year; only Kansas (23), Duke (17) and Michigan State (15) have longer streaks. Harris pulled down a career-high 281 rebounds (8.5 rpg) last season, some 40 better than his previous best, recorded as a freshman, and nearly a rebound and a half per game over his debut season. His scoring also went up from his sophomore campaign (13.1 ppg, up from 12.4) and he improved his three-point shooting, Harris will work on his field goal percentage, which has dipped slightly each of the last two years. Defensively, Harris showed he had a nose for the ball, making 30 steals, second only to Pangos (40). The senior is determined to go out with a bang, and lead a Gonzaga team, ranked 22nd in the preseason ESPN/USA Today poll, on a mission to atone for last season, the first in 15 years where it won neither the WCC regular-season nor Tournament Championship.
Key Stat: 29/.414
Opponents obviously concerned about Harris' reputation for pounding the boards found out last year there was another way he could hurt them — from three. Harris hit a career-best 29 threes in 70 attempts, a .414 percentage. That's down from his freshman year (.451), but was still good enough to finish second on the Zags, while his three-point field goals were a career-best and ranked third, behind 6-1 guards Pangos and Gary Bell.
Did You Know: Harris began the season 17th in scoring and seventh in rebounding all-time in school history. He recorded 12 double-doubles last season, three more than he recorded his previous two years combined.
School: Marist Red Foxes
Class: Senior | Position: Guard/Forward
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 185
Hometown: Queens, N.Y.
2012 Averages: 14.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.7 SPG
Career Averages: 14.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.7 SPG
Marist has something to prove as it looks to ascend the MAAC. The Red Foxes, picked eighth in the conference in the preseason, the same spot they finished last season, return their entire starting five which has only one senior and should benefit from a year together. Of special interest will be how that year of experience improves sophomore swingman Chavaughn Lewis, who will lead the resurgence in Poughkeepsie. A Preseason All-MAAC Second Teamer, Lewis is coming off a strong freshman campaign, which saw him finish 10th in scoring of all players, third amongst freshmen, and lead the team in scoring 16 times. He led the Red Foxes in assists, ranking third among first-year MAAC players, and scored 460 points, shattering the school-freshman record. He also made 134 free throws, the fifth-most in school history. He did all of this despite not cracking the starting lineup until the final 11 games of the season. Lewis proved a dependable double-digit scorer for coach Chuck Martin, doing so in his final 20 games. Lewis showed the ability to play both the two and the three, and was a superb defender at both spots. He finished second on the team in rebounds and third in the entire conference in steals, helping him earn a place on the MAAC All-Rookie Team.
Key Stat: 17.1/5.7/49.6
Lewis needed a little time to get his feet wet, but once he did he made quite a splash. As a starter over the final 11 games, the freshman averaged 17.1 points, up from 13.0 ppg, 5.7 rebounds, up from 4.1 rpg, and shot 49.6 percent, up from 38.6 percent.
Did You Know: Lewis and teammate T.J. Curry are best friends and have played together since they were kids. They were separated in high school, as Lewis went to St. Mary's in Brooklyn, and Curry went to Christ the King in Queens, where both won state titles, Lewis in CHSAA Class A, Curry in CHSAA Class AA.
School: Oklahoma Sooners
Class: Senior | Position: Guard
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 219
Hometown: Chesapeake, Va.
2012 Averages: 16.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.0 SPG
Career Averages: 11.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.3 APG, .8 SPG
Steven Pledger has never played in the NCAA Tournament. The senior guard has never even had a winning season in his three years in Norman. He plans on changing that this season. An Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection last season, Pledger leads the experienced Sooners, who return all five starters from last season. The Big 12's leading returning scorer, Pledger is a devastating offensive weapon; he shot close to 46 percent last season, 42 percent from three and over 83 percent from the foul line, finishing in the top 10 in the conference in all three categories. Pledger became the man for coach Lon Kruger's squad as a junior. He improved his scoring by more than five points a game from his sophomore campaign (he's up 10 from his freshman year) and made 58 more field goals. Amazingly, he needed only 26 more minutes (and 85 more FGAs) to do it. The durable two started all 30 games he played and played a team-high 32.9 minutes a game. He scored in double-figures 25 times and led the team in scoring 15 times, scoring 20 point in eight of those games. Pledger also showed that he was more than just a shooter. He was second on the team with 30 steals and wasn't shy about crashing the boards, pulling down 41 offensive rebounds (third) and 117 total rebounds (fourth).
Key Stat: 51 percent
Pledger was pretty much the lone three-point threat for Oklahoma last season. He made 51 percent of the team's three-point field goals (72 of 141) and had 105 more attempts than the nearest teammate. His converting at .416 percent (fourth in the conference) probably made Kruger a little more tolerant of the disparity and will allow him to cut Pledger some slack as he takes aim at the OU career-record for three-point field goals made. He started the season 81 away.
Did You Know: Pledger began the season tied with Kansas State's Rodney McGruder for the lead among active Big 12 Players in 30-point games (three) and in second in 20-point games, 13, one behind McGruder.
School: Vanderbilt Commodores
Class: Sophomore | Position: Guard
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 215
Hometown: Lewisburg, Tenn.
2012 Averages: 3.1 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, .5 SPG
The 2012-13 season is going to be trial by fire for Johnson and Vanderbilt. Picked 10th in preseason polls, the defending SEC Tournament champions look nothing like the team that upended No. 1 Kentucky, giving the Wildcats their final loss of 2011-12. The Commodores must replace their entire starting five, their top six scorers and top seven rebounders. Johnson is Vandy's leading returning scorer with 3.1 ppg. Last season he proved plenty capable of taking the heat; it was his three-point play with 90 seconds remaining in the SEC title game that snapped a 62-62 tie and gave Vanderbilt the lead for good in its 71-64 upset of the Wildcats. His ability to make big plays under the harshest lights will be tested this season and go a long way in determining the fate of the Commodores. Coach Kevin Stallings should feel comfortable seeing his point guard at the line late; Johnson shot just below 80 percent from the foul line for the season and over 81 percent in SEC play. The sophomore got off to a sizzling start in the season opener against Nicholls State, scoring 25 points, with six rebounds and six assists, with only two turnovers.
Key Stat: 2:1
Johnson's ability to take care of the ball was evident even in limited appearances last season, as the freshman had a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in SEC games, chalking up 32 assists vs. 16 turnovers.
Did You Know: Johnson was named Tennessee Mr. Basketball as a senior at Marshall County High School, averaging 27.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 3.6 steals and 1.5 blocks, leaving as the school's all-time leader in scoring and assists.
School: West Virginia Mountaineers
Class: Senior | Position: Forward
Height: 6-9 | Weight: 260
Hometown: Istanbul, Turkey
2012 Averages: 10.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.5 APG
Career Averages: 7.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.0 APG
The big man in West Virginia's attack has a new look for his final season — the school's first in the Big 12 — and it's not just the loss of his signature beard. According to coach Bob Huggins, Kilicli reported in the best shape of his career. Nicknamed the "Istan-bull," the Turkish-born native has been trending upward his entire career in Morgantown. He continued that career arc last season, when he averaged a career-best 10.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists with a career-best 236 field goals. The Mountaineers, picked sixth in Big 12 Preseason voting, will be counting on Kilicli, their leading returning scorer and rebounder, as they try to make it six NCAA Tournament appearances in nine years — they've reached the Sweet 16 in five of their eight. He is the team's active leader in double-figure scoring games, with 30, more than twice as many as his nearest teammate. He's also the only current Mountaineer with a 20-point game, leads the team with three double-figure rebounding games and is the only player on the roster with a double-double (he has two). Doing most of his damage inside, Kilicli shot over 50 percent from the field (51 percent in Big East games), and against Louisville on Feb. 11, was almost perfect, shooting 7-for-8, in a losing cause.
Key Stat: 55.3
Kilicli is a career .553 percent shooter from the free throw line, but there's reason for optimism; last season his accuracy went up as the games got bigger (he shot 65 percent, 13-for-20, from Feb. 1 through the NCAA Tournament).
Did You Know: Kilicli had extensive professional experience before he ever set foot in Morgantown, playing for Pertevniyal Istanbul Club in Turkey in lieu of high school, as high school teams in his home country often didn't offer prep basketball.
University of Maryland alum Jon Cooper is an Atlanta-based freelance writer.