RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Adreian Payne

Posted by Bennet Hayes on June 12th, 2014

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 collegians likely to hear their names called by Adam Silver at some point in the draft’s first round. We’ll start with prospects currently slated for the back half of the opening round, but as June progresses we will slowly work our way up and through the presumptive lottery selections. RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is tackling this series; you can find him on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Adreian Payne

School: Michigan State

Height/Weight: 6’10”/240 lbs.

NBA Position: Power Forward

Projected Draft Range: Mid to Late First Round

On And Off The Floor, Adreian Payne Grew Into A Man During His Time In East Lansing -- Is He Now Ready To Help An NBA Team?

On And Off The Floor, Adreian Payne Grew Into A Man During His Time In East Lansing — Is He Now Ready To Help An NBA Team?

Overview: Four-year college players have found it harder and harder to sneak into the NBA Draft’s first round in recent years, but if you need an example of a player who properly utilized every minute of their four years of eligibility, look no further than Adreian Payne. When he arrived at Michigan State, Payne was a raw athlete on the floor and an at-risk student off of it (his ADHD playing a large role in the latter). Now, four years later, Payne doubles as a polished NBA prospect and a college graduate. A freshman who averaged nine minutes per game and shot 49 percent from the free throw line morphed into a senior who shot 42 percent from three-point range (and 79 percent from the charity stripe), as Payne led the Spartans to within a game of the 2014 Final Four. He posted an offensive rating of 113.5 as a senior (a far cry from the 89.5 rating of his freshman campaign), and put his athleticism to use on the defensive glass in grabbing 22.9 percent of opponent’s misses, the 78th best individual rate in the nation. What Payne lacks in fluidity he makes up for with a violent version of athleticism, often rattling rims with aggressive finishes. Sticking to the theme, Payne’s perimeter jump shot also isn’t the smoothest you’ll find, but on the back of that stroke (as slow as it may be), Payne developed into one of college basketball’s most lethal inside-outside threats as an upperclassman. It’s that rare combination of outside shooting touch and raw strength and athleticism — in a 6’10” man with a hulking frame, no less — that has made Payne one of the most desirable quantities in this draft, even at his relatively advanced age of 23. Will one of college basketball’s most notable success stories make an NBA franchise as happy as he made Spartan nation?

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Shabazz Napier

Posted by Bennet Hayes on June 11th, 2014

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 collegians likely to hear their names called by Adam Silver at some point in the draft’s first round. We’ll start with prospects currently slated for the back half of the opening round, but as June progresses we will slowly work our way up and through the presumptive lottery selections. RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is tackling this series; you can find him on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Shabazz Napier

School: Connecticut

Height/Weight: 5’11”/175 lbs.

NBA Position: Point Guard

Projected Draft Range: Mid to Late First Round

Shabazz Napier Dominated The NCAA Tournament. Will His Proficiency Continue At The Next Level?

Shabazz Napier Dominated The NCAA Tournament. Will His Proficiency Continue At The Next Level?

Overview: Shabazz Napier’s inspired NCAA Tournament performance not only netted UConn its third National Championship in 11 seasons, but it also supplied his draft stock with an explosive surge. The Boston native was likely a mid-to-late second round pick if you asked scouts about him before the NCAA Tournament, but after averaging 21.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 4.5 APG on college basketball’s biggest stage, Napier is now a safe bet to be drafted in the first round. The college senior turned first rounder is a rare breed in today’s day and age, but the UConn faithful can tell you that the enigmatic Napier has always been one to shirk convention. The “confident” swagger that propelled Napier to stardom this March wasn’t always perceived as such; as an underclassman, he was seen as brash and erratic, a petulant youngster who struggled when shots didn’t drop or passes missed teammates. He outran that reputation under Kevin Ollie, but that doesn’t mean NBA teams won’t fear a regression to his less mature days. If he avoids such a step back and maintains his spectacular 2013-14 form, one NBA team will have added a gifted floor general to their roster. When it comes to competitiveness and confidence, few players have more of it – in this draft or any other – than Mr. Napier.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: T.J. Warren

Posted by Bennet Hayes on June 6th, 2014

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 collegians likely to hear their names called by Adam Silver at some point in the draft’s first round. We’ll start with prospects currently slated for the back half of the opening round, but as June progresses we will slowly work our way up and through the presumptive lottery selections. RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is tackling this series; you can find him on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: T.J. Warren

School: North Carolina State

Height/Weight: 6’8”/220 lbs.

NBA Position: Small Forward

Projected Draft Range: Mid to Late First Round

T.J. Warren's ACC POY Season Should Have Him First-Round Bound

T.J. Warren’s ACC POY Season Should Have Him First-Round Bound (USA Today Images)

Overview: For the better part of the 2013-14 season, NC State’s inconsistent results seemed to leave them at a safe distance from the hustle and bustle of the Tournament bubble – a measure of mediocrity that also kept T.J. Warren, the Pack’s bucket-producing star, under a relative veil of anonymity. But a series of March surprises – many of which Warren himself had little part in bringing about — would raise the sophomore’s national profile significantly. First came the surprise ACC POY award (over Jabari Parker), then NC State went out and posted an ACC Tournament upset of nose-diving Syracuse (in which Warren scored 28 of the Pack’s 66 points), a victory that set the stage for the biggest surprise of Selection Sunday: NC State’s inclusion in the 2014 Tournament. Warren’s stellar under-the-radar season suddenly became popular fodder for talking heads in advance of the quartet of First Four games in Dayton, and NC State and their star went out and validated the growing buzz in a first-round victory over local favorite Xavier. It appeared Warren and the Pack’s Tournament stay might extend another round when they held an 11-point lead within the final three minutes against #5 seed Saint Louis, but a late collapse from the free throw line brought a close to an NCAA Tournament appearance that few could ever see coming. Short as their stay may have been, the brief turn that the Pack took in the March spotlight exposed the talented Warren for what he likely was: The best scorer in college basketball not named Doug McDermott. He averaged 24.6 PPG on the season, went for 40+ points in back-t0-back outings against Pitt and BC in early March, and contributed at least 20 points in 31 of his 35 outings. No razzle-dazzle here (another reason for the lack of publicity), but Warren brought offensive production almost every time he stepped on the floor in 2013-14.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: P.J. Hairston

Posted by Bennet Hayes on June 5th, 2014

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 collegians likely to hear their names called by Adam Silver at some point in the draft’s first round. We’ll start with prospects currently slated for the back half of the opening round, but as June progresses we will slowly work our way up and through the presumptive lottery selections. RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is tackling this series; you can find him on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: P.J. Hairston

School: North Carolina

Height/Weight: 6’5”/220 lbs.

NBA Position: Shooting Guard/Small Forward

Projected Draft Range: Late First Round

It's Been Over A Year Since P.J. Hairston Has Donned The Carolina Blue. Can He Use His D-League Experience To Boost His Draft Stock?

It’s Been Over A Year Since P.J. Hairston Donned The Carolina Blue. Can He Use His D-League Experience To Boost His Draft Stock?

Overview: Thirteen months ago, everything was looking up for PJ Hairston. He had announced his return to a North Carolina team that was poised to build off a strong second half of the ACC season, a surge catalyzed largely by Hairston’s insertion into the Tar Heels’ starting lineup. He was to be the leader and primary scoring option for a preseason top-10 team, a tough, physical wing who could score the ball in a variety of ways. Last season looked to be a big year for both Hairston and the Heels… and then the summer happened. Camp and popsicles on the summer vacation was not for Hairston, as a series of violations — speeding tickets, marijuana possession, impermissible benefits received – would wind up costing the senior his final year of college eligibility. Hairston’s loss was a major blow for a UNC team that would struggle to find perimeter scoring options all season, but the suspension may not have injured Hairston’s basketball future as significantly. Sure, PJ was probably disappointed to not be a part of this Carolina season, but Hairston quickly moved on to the professional ranks after being ruled ineligible, latching on with the Texas Legends of the D-League in short order. Once in the Lone Star State, Hairston displayed the scoring touch that had made him one of the ACC’s most lethal offensive players, averaging 21.8 PPG (in just 32 MPG) in 26 contests with the Legends. Game to game consistency is still a major concern with the mercurial ex-Heel, but the diversity of Hairston’s D-league scoring (55% 2FG, 2.8 3FG per game, 87% FT) solidified his status as a likely first-round pick in this June’s draft. Hairston’s road to the NBA will have been far more circuitous than it appeared to be a year ago, but PJ is still right on time in arriving at his destination.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Jerami Grant

Posted by Bennet Hayes on June 3rd, 2014

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 collegians likely to hear their names called by Adam Silver at some point in the draft’s first round. We’ll start with prospects currently slated for the back half of the opening round, but as June progresses we will slowly work our way up and through the presumptive lottery selections. RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is tackling this series; you can find him on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Jerami Grant

School: Syracuse

Height/Weight: 6’8”/215 lbs.

NBA Position: Small Forward

Projected Draft Range: Mid-First Round

Jerami Grant Feasted At The Rim During His Brief Stint At Syracuse, But Developing A More Varied Offensive Game Will Be A Point Of Emphasis For Grant At The Next Level 

Overview: I suppose there are some Syracuse fans capable of recalling the good times of the first three months of last season (in which the Orange ran out to a 21-0 start), but the lingering bitterness of a 3-6 close to the year is now difficult to avoid. Late February and March went as poorly as those months possibly could have for Jim Boeheim’s team, but the stench of that disastrous stretch appears to not have infiltrated the draft stock of Syracuse’s underclassmen, turned NBA hopefuls, Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant. We’ll get to Ennis a little later on, but Grant’s breakout sophomore season appears to have planted him solidly in the middle of the draft’s first round. The stupendous athletic ability that he displayed during infrequent spells on the floor in his freshman season was put to much better use last year, as Grant made the most of a significant increase in minutes (more than double) to boost his per game averages in points (12.1 PPG from 3.9) and rebounds (6.8 RPG from 3.0) in 2013-14. His offensive efficiency rating also leaped from 103.2 to 115.6 (280th-best in the country), as Grant avoided the perimeter and focused on what he does best: offensive rebounding and attacking the rim from 12 feet and in. Grant made significant strides in many fundamental areas of the game last season, but even more exaggerated development will be needed if the Syracuse product is to become a quality NBA player. He lacks any sort of perimeter jump shot (although he did improve his free throw shooting, making 67% of his attempts at the line as a sophomore), struggles to put the ball on the deck and create his own shot, and hasn’t been asked to play much man-to-man defense. All are areas of concern, but as long as highlight reels exist, reminders of Grant’s tantalizing upside are never far from reach.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Kyle Anderson

Posted by Bennet Hayes on May 29th, 2014

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 collegians likely to hear their names called by Adam Silver at some point in the draft’s first round. We’ll start with prospects currently slated for the back half of the opening round, but as June progresses we will slowly work our way up and through the presumptive lottery selections. RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is tackling this series; you can find him on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Kyle Anderson

School: UCLA

Height/Weight: 6’9”/230 lbs.

NBA Position: Point Guard/Small Forward

Projected Draft Range: Mid to Late First Round

Is Kyle "Slo-Mo" Anderson Fast Enough For The NBA Game?

Is Kyle “Slo-Mo” Anderson Fast Enough For The NBA Game?

Overview: UCLA may be losing one of the most unique talents to grace the college hardwoods this millennium, but the Bruins’ loss is the 2014 NBA Draft’s gain, as Kyle Anderson has simultaneously become one of the most intriguing and confounding prospects of this or any draft. Long and rangy 6’9″ point guards don’t grow on trees, particularly ones who led their teams to the Sweet Sixteen and posted per game averages of 14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 6.5 assists last season. Along the way, Anderson became the first Pac-12 player to compile 200 assists and 200 rebounds in a season — just one of many statistical firsts that this freakishly versatile sophomore recorded in 2013-14. New head man Steve Alford’s decision to let Anderson run his team’s point — he wasn’t offered that opportunity during a statistically pedestrian freshman season — paid almost immediate dividends, as Anderson fueled an up-tempo Bruins offense that quickly staked its claim among the nation’s best (they finished 13th nationally in offensive efficiency). A pair of potential first-rounders in this year’s draft (Zach LaVine and Jordan Adams), among others, joined Anderson in breaking the chains off the stagnancy of the Ben Howland era, but no player deserves more credit for that than Anderson. Aside from an unusually high turnover rate (20.2%) and occasionally soft one-on-one defense, Anderson offered positive contributions in nearly every area on the floor. He shot 48 percent from both two and three-point ranges, 73 percent from the line, and chipped in defensively with a combined 2.6 blocks and steals per contest. Below average athleticism (they call him “Slo-Mo” for a reason) and an uncertain role at the next level has the former UCLA guard grading out as a late first-rounder right now, but Kyle Anderson is as distinctive an NBA prospect as you will ever encounter.

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2013-14’s All-Underappreciated Team

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 17th, 2014

We’ve seen All-American list after All-American list over the past few weeks, and the familiar names are all deserving: McDermott, Parker, Smith, Wilbekin, and so on and so forth. But what about the players who are nowhere to be found on any of these honor rolls, yet still deserve mention for their valuable contributions this season? Below is a team of five players – none of them All-Americans, or really anything especially close – who all played important but overlooked roles for their successful teams.

Quinn Cook Was An Underrated Player For Duke In 2013-14

Quinn Cook Was An Underrated Player For Duke In 2013-14

  • PG: Quinn Cook, Duke – If you are a McDonald’s All-American and seek a successful but unheralded college career, Duke would seem like as good a destination as any. Somehow, Cook has avoided plaudits from most observers during his time in Durham, and at times has even been seen as the weak link for the Blue Devils. His play isn’t always as consistent as Coach K would like, but after a season in which he posted a 120.2 Offensive Rating (better than more heralded teammates Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood) and an assist rate of 27.7 percent, it’s time to appreciate Cook for what he was this year — one of the best point guards in the country.
  • SG/SF: Tekele Cotton, Wichita State – We heard plenty about Cleanthony Early, Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker this season, but what about the Shockers’ unsung hero, Cotton? The 6’3” junior was the best defensive player on the 12th most efficient defensive team in the country, and shot 37 percent from three-point range en route to a gaudy Offensive Rating of 118.2. Not everyone missed Cotton’s value to WSU; he was one of four Shockers to receive a first-place vote for MVC POY, and was awarded the league’s Defensive Player of the Year trophy. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Most Pivotal Moments of the 2013-14 Season

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 16th, 2014

Within every 40 minutes of college basketball, there is a moment or two that sets a tone, shifts momentum, or otherwise dictates the game’s final result. If we think bigger picture, we’ll notice that the five-month college basketball season is also shaped by a number of similarly formative moments. We may not always know their full significance at the time, but these moments conspire to transform the course of a season. In 2013-14, these were those 10 moments – some occurring inside the lines, others far away from the hardwood – that proved most pivotal to the season’s final snapshot.

UConn Felled Florida Back In December In What Would Turn Out To Be The First Installment Of Many  Napier Clutch Shots

UConn Felled Florida Back In December In What Would Turn Out To Be The First Installment Of Many Napier Clutch Shots

  • 10. Tyler Ennis Downs Pitt at the Horn (February 12). The Syracuse freshman’s memorable game-winner extended the Orange’s inspiring perfect start, but might it have ended up wounding both teams? Pitt would never really find its way over the hump, while Syracuse’s continued chase of perfection may have shielded a few critical flaws that would later cause its sharp downfall.
  • 9. Scottie Wilbekin Returns From Five-Game Suspension (November 25). A solid performance (12 points, seven assists, three steals) in a rout of Atlantic Sun also-ran Jacksonville was just the beginning of a redemptive season for Wilbekin, who overcame offseason turmoil to become the unquestioned leader and MVP of a team that, for the better part of 2014, played at a far loftier level than any other squad in the country.
  • 8. Wichita State Comes Back Against Missouri State (January 11). Shockermania hadn’t yet grown into the hysteria it would become, but Wichita State overcame a 19-point second half road deficit in the most improbable of their season-opening 35 victories. Read the rest of this entry »
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College Basketball’s Five Best Games of 2013-14

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) on April 15th, 2014

As we continue to sift through the memories of the 2013-14 college basketball season, we take a look back at some of the best games of the season. In order, here are the five best games from 2013-14. We covered the five best stories of the season last week, if you’re interested.

  1. November 12: Kansas 94, Duke 83 – Two of the most anticipated freshmen in recent college hoops history matched up in the Champions Classic nightcap, and neither Wiggins (22 points, eight rebounds) nor Parker (27 points, nine rebounds ) disappointed. Kansas broke open a close game behind a late push from Wiggins and Perry Ellis (24 points, nine rebounds), in the process earning one of the season’s first true statement victories. The young Jayhawks would go on to win 25 games and the Big 12 regular season title, but their finest (and most entertaining) win may have come in their second outing of the year.

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

  2. March 29: Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63 (OT) – The low-possession game that everyone expected came to fruition, but both the Badgers (1.05 PPP) and Wildcats (1.03 PPP) managed solid offensive efforts in this Elite Eight battle. Neither team was able to build more than a three-point lead during the final 17 minutes of play (including overtime) in a tangibly tense seesaw battle, but it was the offensive clinic put on by the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky (28 points, 11 rebounds) that proved to be the ultimate difference. After a controversial replay review in the final seconds that gave the ball back to Arizona, Nick Johnson was unable to get up a winning shot attempt in time, and Wisconsin was headed to the Final Four for the first time under Bo Ryan. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Five Stories We Will Remember From the 2013-14 Season

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 10th, 2014

It just so happened that two of the biggest stories from the first night of this college basketball season happened to be the two most prominent narratives on the season’s final evening. Back on November 8, Shabazz Napier’s 18-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist effort propelled UConn to a one-point victory over Maryland, while some 700 miles away, the most decorated and anticipated freshman class in college hoops history debuted at Rupp Arena, blasting UNC-Asheville, 89-57. Almost exactly five months to that night, Napier was again dazzling and the microscope remained firmly fixed on those gifted Kentucky freshmen, except this time they shared the same court at AT&T Stadium – the season’s final stage. Both national title combatants will survive as integral pieces in the memory of this 2013-14 season, but in between opening night and Championship Monday, countless other teams, players, and storylines seized our attention. Below are the five stories (beyond the Wildcats and Huskies) that I will remember most from a college basketball season that was never, ever boring.

The Shockers Were Unable To Author An NCAA Tournament Fit For Their Dream Season, But Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker And Co. Were Still The Story Of This College Basketball Season

The Shockers Were Unable To Author An NCAA Tournament Ending Fit For Their Dream Season, But Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker And Co. Were Still The Story Of 2013-14

5. Pac-12 Revival. We missed you, Pac-12. It’d been a minute since the league summoned up a national title contender, much less a deep and balanced assemblage of teams to chase that front-runner, but the Pac-12 was able to do just that in 2013-14. Even with Brandon Ashley’s mid-January season-ending ACL tear muddying Arizona’s March forecast, the Wildcats put together a regular season worthy of a #1 seed, and entered the NCAA Tournament on the short list of favorites before falling a point short of the Final Four in an Elite Eight loss to Wisconsin. Five other teams from the conference made the field of 68, with both Stanford and a revived UCLA squad (that Steve Alford hiring doesn’t look so bad now) making the Sweet Sixteen. College hoops is officially back on the West Coast.

4. Marcus Smart. He began the season as a presumptive top-five pick and popular leader of a top-10 team, but found his national image devolve into that of a controversial hothead with a soft spot for flopping. On his way out, Smart claimed he still believes he made the right decision in returning to Stillwater for his sophomore season, but Oklahoma State’s disastrous campaign (despite a late-season surge to make the NCAA Tournament and save a tiny bit of face) and his plummeting draft stock should raise suspicions that, perhaps for old time’s sake, Smart staged this final act as a Poke in some place far from reality. It would only make sense, because in 2014, Marcus Smart was nothing if not drama.

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After Fourth Title Since 1999, UConn Has Proven Its Blood is Pure Blue

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 8th, 2014

Elite societies are exclusive societies, and the true blue-bloods of college basketball have long been a part of a near-impenetrable coterie. They are the programs that need no introduction, the schools that we expect to see in preseason Top Tens, midseason games-of-the-week, and on the final lines of the bracket in March and April. With apologies to UCLA and Indiana (it has been too long since either school ended their season with a National Title), conventional wisdom would tell you that this dignified collection has included just four teams for quite some time now – Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas. It has been a nice run boys, but it’s time to welcome another member to your group. After winning its fourth national title in 15 years on Monday night — twice as many as any other school during that time — Connecticut deserves mention in any conversation of the elite college basketball programs in America. With Jim Calhoun watching from the stands and Kemba Walker on a television set far away from Dallas, Kevin Ollie, Shabazz Napier and the rest of the Huskies proved – against perennial power Kentucky, no less — that the UConn program is as elite as any in college hoops.

In Capturing Another National Title For The University Of Connecticut, Kevin Ollie's Huskies Proved That The UConn Program Is As Elite As Any College Basketball Has To Offer

Kevin Ollie’s Huskies Proved That The UConn Program — Now Winners Of Four Of The Last 15 National Championships — Is As Elite As Any In College Basketball  (Getty)

Jim Calhoun has long been synonymous with UConn basketball. After all, Calhoun took a program that was nearly devoid of basketball history when he got to Storrs in 1986 and turned it into a national power, winning 12 times as many NCAA Tournament games in his 26 years (48) as the program had in the 85 years that preceded his arrival. Among those four dozen Tournament victories were three national titles – a nearly unthinkable feat when viewed within the greater picture of Connecticut basketball history. Many even called the Hall of Famer’s work in Storrs underappreciated when he retired in 2012, citing that blank program history and the bleak winters in tiny Storrs as major obstacles to a perennially elite college basketball program. Yet, somehow Calhoun was able to create precisely that.

However, all good things must come to an end, and the Jim Calhoun era was most certainly a good thing. His departure in 2012 brought a fork in the road for the program. One route would have been a trip back to a quiet, defeat-ridden past, where three decades of sustained brilliance would have ultimately come to reveal little more than the immense proficiency of one fantastic head coach. The other fork was more intriguing, one where continued success might actually show that Calhoun had done more than just coach a bunch of great teams. If UConn continued their winning ways, Calhoun’s legacy would be that of a program builder; he would have taken a bad job and turned it into one of the sport’s best.

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Opportunity Missed, But a Season to Cherish for Wisconsin

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 7th, 2014

Saturday night’s wild finish between Kentucky and Wisconsin offered yet another poignant display of the vast range of emotions that this Tournament is capable of causing. While the Wildcats celebrated another stirring victory, the Badgers saw their season end in the most sudden, grief-inducing of fashions. Bo Ryan’s team was seconds away from heading to the National Championship game as favorites. One seismic moment later, and both season and dream were finished. So is life in the emotional rollercoaster that is the NCAA Tournament, but less-than-glorious conclusion notwithstanding, the Badgers accomplished plenty this season. In the wake of Saturday night’s classic, here are three thoughts on Wisconsin’s 2013-14.

After Saturday's Crushing Final Four Defeat, Bo Ryan, Traevon Jackson And The Rest Of The Returning Badgers Will Seek A Happier Ending Next Winter

After Saturday’s Crushing Final Four Defeat, Bo Ryan, Traevon Jackson And The Rest Of The Returning Badgers Will Seek A Happier Ending Next Winter

  1. Even after a brilliant season, to ignore the Badgers’ missed opportunity would be both near-sighted and disrespectful. Of course, Kentucky had much to do with seizing victory from the Badgers on Saturday night, but Wisconsin should not be misconstrued as a “had a great run, was just happy-to-be-here” type of team. Final Fours don’t grow on trees, especially during those chilly Madison winters (this was just the program’s third national semifinal appearance), but this Badger team was talented, well-coached and legitimately elite. They had every right to believe that they could leave Dallas as champions – especially after Florida fell in the first semifinal. Wisconsin should be lauded for a fine season, but frustration is only fair when visions of a National Championship were as salient as they were for the Badgers.
  2. Next season, the Badgers’ senior backcourt tandem of Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser may be the toughest, most experienced pair of guards in America. The duo will be forever frozen on the wrong end of Final Four history – Jackson for his missed jumper on the game’s final possession, Gasser for his contest of the Harrison jumper – but both Badgers were integral pieces of this run, and will be cornerstones for Wisconsin success next winter. Wisconsin diehards had to know who would be taking the final shot before it happened, as Jackson has developed into a late-game go-to guy for Bo Ryan over the past two seasons. Clutch and accurate (he shot 38 percent from behind the arc this season), Jackson’s three seasons of experience have also aided his development as the perfect conductor for Ryan’s swing offense. His classmate Gasser is equally learned in the intricacies of the Badger system, although Gasser’s main value is on the defensive end of the floor. That’s saying something after a season in which he posted an O-rating of 128.6 (24th-best in the country), but Gasser will be back next year to continue his harassment of the best wings in the Big Ten.
  3. Kaminsky! So, yea, the hype surrounding Frank the Tank may have been slightly outsized after his scintillating 28-point, 11-rebound Elite Eight performance. I’m not sure how much of this has to do with the fact that Turner has a studio crew that has watched exactly zero college basketball before March (hi Charles!), but Kaminsky appeared to have become the second-coming of Dirk Nowitzki for the past seven days. Dirk he is not, but Kaminsky’s presumed return to Madison is a game-changer for the Badgers. His offensive versatility makes him a unique weapon in the college ranks, and with Nigel Hayes’ rugged athleticism offering a nice complement, Wisconsin’s interior (especially offensively) will be difficult to handle in 2014-15.
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