RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Jerami Grant

Posted by Bennet Hayes on June 3rd, 2014

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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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Kentucky’s Improbable Journey Rolls On: Three Takeaways

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 6th, 2014

The cardiac ‘Cats did it again. Aaron Harrison continued to make the late-game extraordinary look routine and Kentucky’s unlikely NCAA Tournament run lived to see yet another day. The only thing now standing between the Wildcats and the program’s ninth National Championship is UConn on Monday night, but the #8 seeded Wildcats will be a favorite to knock off the Huskies and complete the six-game sweep. With an eye towards Monday night, here are three quick takeaways from Kentucky’s semifinal victory over Wisconsin.

Kentucky Will Play For The Program's Ninth National Title On Monday Night

Kentucky Will Play For The Program’s Ninth National Title On Monday Night

  1. James Young was aggressive and effective attacking the basket. Young is far from a one-dimensional player, but with more three-point attempts than two-point attempts to his name this season, there have been times when the freshman’s role has been reduced to that of a jump shooter, almost exclusively. This was not the case against the Badgers. Young scored a game-high 17 points, and only three were earned from behind the arc. Nine of his 11 field goal attempts came from two-point range, and Young showed off a more varied offensive game in getting into the lane often and to the free throw stripe almost as frequently (he went 6-of-7 on free throws). His floor-stretching ability will again be crucial on Monday night, but a Young capable of manufacturing points in different ways is a scary proposition moving forward.
  2. Alex Poythress may never be the player everyone hoped he would be when he arrived in Lexington, but he has become a key role player on this team. Poythress played 29 minutes last night, had eight points (4-of-4 FG) and seven rebounds, and even did a nice job defending Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky when called upon. His offensive game is still unrefined, but as an athletic energy guy off the bench who can guard almost every position, Poythress has real value for the Willie Cauley-Stein-less ‘Cats. Expect another heavy dose of the sophomore on Monday night, as he would appear to be a perfect defensive match-up for UConn’s DeAndre Daniels. Read the rest of this entry »
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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Florida Gators

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 4th, 2014

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As part of our ongoing NCAA Tournament coverage, RTC is unveiling a detailed look at each of the Final Four teams throughout the week. Kentucky, Wisconsin and UConn have already released. Today: Florida.

Back on December 2, college basketball pollsters would have told you that Florida was the worst of the four teams still standing in this NCAA Tournament. #12 UConn beat the 15th-ranked Gators that night, and both Kentucky (#3) and Wisconsin (#8) rested comfortably among the top 10 teams in the nation. Things have changed quite significantly in the months since. As a result of 30 consecutive victories since that loss in Storrs, Florida now enters the Final Four as the prohibitive favorite to cut down the nets, while their three Final Four mates have lost a combined 24 times since the Gators have. It’s been a relentless and astounding string of success for Billy Donovan’s team, but the Gators know that their winning streak will mean far less if it fails to reach 32 games. The ultimate validation is available in North Texas, and Florida appears poised and ready to snatch it.

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Before The Winning Began In Earnest, Billy Donovan Had To Navigate His Team Through A Slew Of Early Season Personnel Losses

Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule. Florida, picked to finished second in the SEC in the league preseason poll, began the season with a rather discombobulated roster. Scottie Wilbekin started the year suspended, Chris Walker was ineligible, and newcomers Dorian Finney-Smith, Kasey Hill, and DeVon Walker all missed time due to injuries. There were even times when Billy Donovan didn’t have enough healthy bodies to scrimmage five-on-five in practice, which made the Gators’ 11-2 non-conference record (which included victories over Kansas, Memphis, and Florida State) a good, if not great, beginning to the season. But Florida was just getting started. With Casey Prather emerging out of nowhere as an All-American candidate and Wilbekin shedding character issues to become one of the best two-way floor generals in the country, Florida ripped off 21 straight victories to seize the SEC regular season and Tournament crowns, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Not everything was easy – five of those SEC wins came by five points or fewer – but the Gators posted the most impressive regular season in college basketball this season. They were rightfully awarded the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, and entered the Big Dance on a 26-game winning streak.

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Debut of Turner’s “Teamcasts” Offers New Twist on Final Four Saturday

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 3rd, 2014

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Despite the participation of familiar programs Kentucky, Florida, Connecticut and Wisconsin, Final Four Saturday will look a little different this weekend. For one, games will be televised on a network other than CBS for the first time since 1982 (TBS), but the CBS/Turner partnership didn’t stop there in its overhaul of National Semifinals programming. We took inventory of the newfangled approach when it was announced back in November, but the introduction of “Teamcasts” – two additional, school-specific telecasts to air on TNT and truTV simultaneous to TBS’ national broadcast – will become a reality on Saturday evening. If successful, the idea could lead to even more specialization in coverage down the road (merits of a journey down this path could be debated), but for now, Teamcasts should provide all viewers – both bipartisan and neutral – a healthy, optional alternative to the national coverage they are used to consuming during the Final Four.

If You Tired Of Jim Nantz And Co. Calling The Final Four Action On TBS Saturday Night, Don't Use The Mute Button Before Checking Out The "Teamcasts" On TNT And TruTV

If You Tired Of Jim Nantz And Co. Calling The Final Four Action On TBS Saturday Night, Don’t Use The Mute Button Before Checking Out The “Teamcasts” On TNT And TruTV

The TBS telecast should still pull in the majority of Final Four viewers, but it will be interesting to see just how significant a segment shift their television sets to the team-specific broadcasts elsewhere. A smattering of fans without a team in the Final Four will undoubtedly use their remotes for the occasional change-of-pace offered by the Teamcasts, but I question how many Kentucky, UConn, Florida or Wisconsin fans will even make the switch. Hearing Jim Nantz, Steve Kerr and Greg Anthony discuss your team can pleasantly solidify the magnitude of the moment your team finds itself competing in — whether you enjoy listening to that trio or not. Following along with a more familiar, school-specific crew may offer thoughtful, precise insights, but it might also make the Final Four experience feel a bit more ordinary than it would with the national crew.

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Shabazz Napier’s Maturity Fuels a Final Four Run to Remember

Posted by Bennet Hayes on April 2nd, 2014

The lasting takeaway from the tournament that began UConn’s 2010-11 season is the same memory that defined the NCAA Tournament that ended it: Kemba Walker’s brilliance. The year of Kemba may have reached a crescendo in March and early April three years ago, but it began back in November 2010, when Walker’s three-day, 90-point bender propelled the unranked Huskies to an unexpected Maui Invitational title. Lost within that preseason title run was our then-insignificant introduction to Connecticut freshman Shabazz Napier. The Massachusetts native has never been short on confidence, but back then, his self-assurance served only to speed up the game around him. Napier went 7-of-22 from the field in Maui, committed more turnovers than assists, and was a largely inconsequential element of the Huskies’ early-season championship run.

UConn Is Headed Back To The Final Four, In No Small Thanks To Their Experienced, Mature Floor General Shabazz Napier

UConn Is Headed Back To The Final Four, In No Small Thanks To Their Experienced, Mature Floor General Shabazz Napier

Of course, almost any Husky not named Kemba could have fallen into that category – both in Maui and beyond — but Napier’s opening act at the school was a representative dose of a freshman season in which reckless play and poor decision-making turned him into quite the efficiency drain. On the season, Napier shot under 33 percent from three-point range, made just 42 percent of his two-point attempts, and posted an astronomically high turnover rate of 22.3 percent. For the sake of reference, the freshman’s ball-dominating teammate, Walker, had a turnover rate nearly half that of Napier that season (11.6 %). Comparisons to NPOYs aren’t always the fairest, but either way, the statistical breakdown of Napier’s freshman year is incapable of hiding the immaturity that he brought with him to Storrs. He ended that season as a national champion and a key piece of UConn’s future, but significant refinement was needed for Napier to ever realize his potential.

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