20 Questions: Will PJ Hairston’s Eligibility Make or Break UNC This Season?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 9th, 2013

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When the Tar Heels left Coral Gables last February 9 as victims of a violent Miami beatdown, an NCAA Tournament bid was far from a certainty. NIT discussion had grown ever-real for one of college basketball’s flagship programs, and the aimless Heels headed north still seeking an identity. Enter P.J. Hairston. Roy Williams inserted his sixth man into the starting lineup four days later, playing the 6’5” Hairston as a de facto power forward in a small-ball lineup. The new look Heels would lose a tight one to Duke in Cameron that night, but they went on to win eight of their last 10 contests, comfortably earning an NCAA Tournament bid in the process. That lineup undoubtedly assisted in creating an identity on the court for UNC, but it’s no reach to say that P.J. Hairston was the key to salvaging the Carolina season.

UNC Will Miss The Spark That P.J. Hairston Supplies

UNC Will Miss The Spark That P.J. Hairston Supplies

Oh, what a difference an offseason can make. The headlines have come fast and furious all summer: a speeding ticket, an arrest for marijuana and gun possession, reckless driving, illegal benefits in the form of a rental car. All were transgressions attached to Hairston in the past six months, which has left his eligibility in a case of serious limbo right now. While we hope Hairston can get everything together for his own sake, it also leaves Roy Williams’ bunch in a tricky predicament heading into this season. We don’t know when (or if) Hairston will be back; will the man who saved the Heels’ season a year ago be needed to avoid disappointment this time around?

It’s pretty obvious that UNC will be a worse team without Hairston on the court. Not only did his insertion into the starting lineup set off that impressive end of year run, but his production was phenomenal throughout the year. He made 49 percent of his two-point field goals, 40 percent of three-point attempts, and 78 percent from the free throw line — shooting splits that helped give birth to an Offensive rating of 120.3, the 63rd best total in the nation. The most surprising element of efficiency in Hairston’s game last season, given his erratic reputation on (and now off) the court, was a minuscule turnover rate of 10.7 percent. It’s a metric that catch-and-shoot players (who rarely have to handle the ball) often shine in, and while Hairston does his fair share of spotting up, his dribble-drive game is used often enough for this percentage to really impress. Hairston may not always be the most willing defender (despite having all the necessary tools), but there really is no weakness in his offensive game.

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20 Questions: Which Returning Player Makes The Leap?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 8th, 2013

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There has never been a more opportune time for the player waiting in the wings. With transfers more prevalent than ever, the one-and-done era in full swing, and each new college basketball season bringing a brand new landscape with it, we have become accustomed to seeing fresh faces starring in old places. Needless to say, that leaves a pretty sizable group of candidates to choose from when answering the question of which returning player will make the leap this year. LaQuinton Ross looks ready to shoulder the scoring load at Ohio State. Talented sophomore T.J. Warren could develop into a leader in the absence of Leslie, Brown and co. at NC State. A star turn seems in order for Sam Dekker at Wisconsin. The list could go on and on. But if we are taking just one crack at this, Kansas’ Perry Ellis very well could be the player who makes the most significant leap.

Perry Ellis' Will Find Himself With A Vastly Expanded Role For The Jayhawks In 2013-14

Perry Ellis Will Find Himself With A Vastly Expanded Role For The Jayhawks In 2013-14

Rumor has it that Kansas has a freshman by the name of Andrew Wiggins who figures to be a pretty integral piece to the Jayhawk puzzle (and a preseason First Team All-American), but don’t be shocked if Ellis winds up being nearly as valuable to the KU cause as the prodigiously gifted freshman. Ellis, a consensus top-40 recruit coming out of high school, averaged just 13.6 minutes per contest as a freshman. He still managed to post averages of 5.8 PPG and 3.9 RPG in limited minutes, and the only Jayhawks with a higher offensive rating (per KenPom) than Ellis’ 114.1 were Ben McLemore and Travis Releford. It’s no secret that the past six months have seen the Kansas roster undergo quite the transformation. Ellis will undoubtedly see a significant increase in minutes as a result. A simple extrapolation of last season’s numbers (to his expected minutes this year) would qualify as a solid leap for the sophomore, but we can expect even more. As Bill Self’s best post scoring option this season, Ellis will see much more of the offense run through him than a year ago, when Jeff Withey dominated those touches. Wiggins will clearly claim the featured role in the Jayhawk offense, but we have already seen an expanded role for Ellis in Kansas’ two preseason games, where he averaged 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

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20 Questions: Who is This Year’s Indiana?

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on November 7th, 2013

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Who is this year’s Indiana? Whoa, that is a loaded question that certainly won’t endear me to one particular fan base. This exercise is essentially an educated guess based on unknowns, so remember to take this with a big grain of salt. Before we begin, here is a little refresher for those who may have forgotten some things about last season. The 2012-13 Indiana Hoosiers were the nation’s preseason No. 1 team, an ultra-talented group that went 26-5 in the regular season and won the Big Ten with a 14-4 league record. Despite bowing out to Wisconsin in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers locked up the top seed in the East Region, eventually falling to fourth-seeded Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen as Tom Crean and his club simply had no answer for Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3 zone. In a year where IU fans had dreams of at least another Final Four and possibly a national championship, the Hoosiers’ season ended with a resounding thud – a full two rounds short of the ultimate goal, Atlanta.

Jabari Parker has arrived in Durham but will it be enough to vault Duke past the Sweet Sixteen? (credit: RNO)

Jabari Parker has arrived in Durham but will it be enough to vault Duke past the Sweet Sixteen? (credit: RNO)

So, who fills that unlucky role this season (if anyone)? This question is inherently difficult because of the simple fact that I have to choose a highly-ranked team, all of them capable of making the Final Four, winning a national championship and making this article look incredibly foolish. But I’m going to go with Duke. Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils enter the season ranked No. 4 in the nation in both the AP and USA Today/Coaches polls. However, this is a considerably different Duke team from last year’s 30-6 outfit that advanced to the Elite Eight. Gone are Coach K’s top three scorers: Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee, and Ryan Kelly. Coming in is Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood along with the nation’s seventh-ranked recruiting class, headlined by the player some folks feel is the best incoming freshman in the nation, Jabari Parker. Sharpshooter Andre Dawkins also returns after a year off. Without Plumlee and his terrific inside presence, this Duke team will have a different look in 2013-14. Krzyzewski has admitted as much in many preseason interviews, but adjusting his playing style to fit the talents and skills of his team is not going to be a problem for the Hall of Famer and winningest coach in men’s Division I history.

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20 Questions: Does Michigan’s Mitch McGary Deserve to be a Preseason All-American?

Posted by Chris Johnson (@chrisdjohnsonn) on November 6th, 2013

seasonpreview-1There is nothing objectively wrong with the five names selected for the Associated Press Preseason All-American team. You can argue the merits of every selection, I suppose, but that’s probably not the best use of anyone’s time. The poll is an inherently subjective entity. A group of writers see teams and players they believe deserve special recognition and vote accordingly. Preference – not a secret formula or wins and loss records or point averages – explains selections. And in the preseason, speculation about which players and teams will perform well is the single biggest factor involved in poll selection. So when lists like these are revealed, disagreeing with a player or team here and there is totally reasonable. That’s why so many media outlets publish “power rankings.” But saying one team’s placement on a poll is flat-out wrong doesn’t really make much sense. Selections can be questionable – baffling, even. But can they be wrong? Like, 2 + 2=5 wrong? No. No, they can’t.

Arguing for or against McGary’s spot on the preseason All-American team inevitably leads to a dead end. (Getty)

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to Michigan forward Mitch McGary, the most controversial selection on the AP’s team released Monday, which also includes Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart, Creighton senior Doug McDermott and Louisville senior Russ Smith. (And no, Wiggins’ spot on the preseason team is not more controversial than McGary’s. If this guy made it without playing a single minute of college basketball beforehand, then Wiggins – perhaps the most highly touted player to ever enter the modern college game, one all but guaranteed to be a top-three pick in the 2014 NBA Draft – deserves a spot. End of discussion. Welcome to the recruiting news-infused college hoops news cycle of 2013).

There are plenty of folks that think McGary, who received the lowest number of votes (34) of the five players chosen, doesn’t belong on the team. They see McGary as a flash in the pan, someone who got hot in March but doesn’t have the regular season numbers to back up the media love he’s getting. Someone America saw on the big stage and, with scant evidence to dispute the legitimacy of the 14.3 PPG, 10.7 RPG numbers he averaged in six NCAA Tournament games (thanks in large part to the casual sports fan’s general apathy toward every college hoops game before March), fell in love with. McGary can’t hold a candle to Wiggins, McDermott, Smith and Smart, the argument goes, because McGary barely existed before the NCAA Tournament started, and because there are so many other players more qualified than him.

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20 Questions: Who is This Year’s Wichita State?

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on November 4th, 2013

seasonpreview-11Before answering the question of who this year’s Wichita State might be, we should probably make sure we know who last year’s Wichita State was. Gregg Marshall’s eventual national semifinalists overachieved (relative to preseason expectations) their way to a #8 seed, but even then, the Shockers were largely ignored as a candidate to reach the Sweet Sixteen, let alone the Final Four. Well, four NCAA Tournament wins later – and a competitive Final Four loss to eventual champion Louisville – and the Shockers label of “solid mid-major” was due for a major upgrade. So, what team could be in line for a similarly eye-opening run in the 2014 Dance? Three teams stand out as especially viable candidates, but the preseason buzz surrounding Harvard and Boise State has them sporting a trendiness that wasn’t circulating in Wichita this time last year. The Saint Louis Billikens, however, enter the year a bit more under the radar. Their preseason aspirations may be slightly elevated from those of the Shockers’ 12 months ago, but after disappointing pundits as a sleeper pick in last season’s tourney, SLU could be bound for a quiet, productive season that leaves them poised for a March Madness run that nobody sees coming.

Dwayne Evans (#21) Quietly Averaged 14 Points And 7.7 Rebounds A Game Last Year; Could He Lead Saint Louis To Greater March Heights? (Getty)

Dwayne Evans (#21) Quietly Averaged 14 Points And 7.7 Rebounds A Game Last Year. Could He Lead Saint Louis To Greater March Heights? (Getty)

Like Wichita State last season, Saint Louis comes into this year not expected to match the success of last season’s wildly successful campaign. Despite that authoritative early dismissal (Oregon defeated the Billikens by 17 in the round of 32), SLU swept the A-10 regular season and tournament crowns en route to earning a #4 seed. These Billikens will be hard-pressed to match the 28 games won by that group, but the nucleus does return mostly intact. Read the rest of this entry »

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20 Questions: Who Are the Winners and Losers of Conference Realignment This Season?

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on October 29th, 2013

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While it appears that the realignment carousel in Division I collegiate athletics has come to a halt — at least for now — plenty of college basketball programs will be getting used to new surroundings this season. In all, over 50 schools were affected in the 2013-14 round of realignment, an upheaval that has radically changed the athletic landscape over the past three years. As power conference schools chased the football dollar, the domino effect reverberated throughout the NCAA. Many schools in lower and mid-level leagues changed their associations as the news from president’s and athletic director’s offices cascaded down throughout almost all of the conferences. Realignment has been widely panned by college basketball fans and pundits alike who lament the extinction of great, historic rivalries such as Kansas-Missouri and Syracuse-Georgetown. While that is absolutely true, realignment is not all bad. New, interesting rivalries will now be created such as Duke-Syracuse, Memphis-Louisville (an old rivalry resurrected for at least one year) and Xavier-Butler (a continuation from last year’s Atlantic 10). Undoubtedly, many more new rivalries will emerge over the long term.

realignment europe

Realignment Felt Like This at Times, But It Seems to Have Finally Settled Down

Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this year’s round of conference realignment.

Winners

The ACC: When word first leaked that Syracuse and Pittsburgh were discussing an exit from the Big East, some people may have thought it was a joke. Alas, it was real and it happened very quickly. ACC commissioner John Swofford successfully raided the Big East yet again, pulling off a 48-hour coup that effectively drove the final nail into the coffin of what we all knew as the Big East. Now the ACC has effectively become the old Big East, a 15-team behemoth that is absolutely loaded at the top. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame join legendary programs Duke and North Carolina, along with a collection of schools that have been historically solid. This year’s ACC will be great, but in the long run the battles at the top of this league will be second to none with the powerhouses sure to be involved. What we saw in the Big East over the last decade should become commonplace in the new-look ACC. It will get even better next season when Louisville replaces ACC founding member Maryland, which will depart for the Big Ten.

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20 Questions: Who Will Have More Long-Term Success in Los Angeles, Alford or Enfield?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 28th, 2013

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Let’s get right to the point: The narrative since USC hired Andy Enfield and UCLA hired Steve Alford back in the spring is that USC made a bold, imaginative hire and that UCLA struck out. And just about everything that has happened since those hires were announced have reinforced that storyline. Alford struggled through his opening weeks, getting repeatedly hammered for his handling of a sexual assault case involving one of his players at Iowa 11 years early, before finally apologizing more than a week after his first press conference at UCLA. Meanwhile, Andy Enfield was appearing on The Tonight Show, chumming around with Jay Leno and Charlie Sheen and discussing, among other things, his supermodel wife. While Enfield was putting together a superstar group of assistant coaches, Alford put together a less buzzworthy staff. And when the two coaching staffs went head to head in the recruitment of local point guard Jordan McLaughlin, it was USC that came out on top, reinforcing the story that it was USC that was the hip and happening program while UCLA was trailing far behind. Even a seemingly innocuous mid-practice comment from Enfield earlier this month made the news cycle and reinforced the idea that UCLA was old and boring: “If you want to play slow, go to UCLA.”

The Start To The Andy Enfield Era At USC Has Gone Beautifully

The Start To The Andy Enfield Era At USC Has Gone Beautifully

So clearly, USC has all the momentum, UCLA is about to take a dive, and the next thing you know, the Galen Center will be the basketball mecca in Southern California, right? Well, not so fast. Because while this has been, without a doubt, a strong offseason for USC and a poor one for UCLA, here are the two teams’ records since those hires were made: USC: 0-0, UCLA: 0-0. And when games tip off next week, UCLA is expected to be one of the best teams in the Pac-12 and a national Top 25 team, while USC is picked to finish right around the bottom of the conference standings. Enfield and the Trojans will need to prove that they can sustain forward momentum while likely disappearing from the national conversation and playing in front of sparse crowds. Meanwhile, the Bruins will find themselves in high-profile games like their battle with Duke at Madison Square Garden or their lone 2014 regular season game against Arizona in Pauley Pavilion. Or any number of other Pac-12 games that are expected to have an impact on the conference race.

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20 Questions: Why is Georgetown So Incapable of March Success?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on October 23rd, 2013

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Throughout the preseason, RTC national columnists will answer the 20 most compelling questions heading into the 2013-14 season. Previous columns in this year’s series are located here.

The moment came long before the seismic final flourish. Chase Fieler may have slammed the door shut on Georgetown’s March dreams when he pumped through that Brett Comer lob, but the sniff of NCAA Tournament doom – a sensation that is fast becoming a Georgetown supporter’s sixth sense – surely set in far sooner. These days it doesn’t take much to elicit that sense of fear in Georgetown circles come March, as double-digit seeds have sent the Hoyas home before the Sweet Sixteen in each of their last five NCAA Tournaments. The futility has been so profound that Hoya fans can likely find a bit of retroactive appreciation for the most underachieving Georgetown team of the last decade: a 2009 squad littered with talent (Greg Monroe, DaJuan Summers, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman, among others) that bottomed out in the first round of a tournament that lacks the power to break hearts – the NIT. With the halcyon days of a 2007 Final Four run now firmly in the rear view mirror and a confused hysteria building with every March failure, “Hoya Paranoia” has taken on an entirely different meaning. So naturally, we ask the question: Why is Georgetown so incapable of March success?

To Say March Success Has Eluded John Thompson III And Georgetown Lately Would Be An Understatement

To Say March Success Has Eluded John Thompson III And Georgetown Lately Would Be An Understatement (AP images)

At this point, even the most forgiving of Georgetown supporters would have to admit that some part of the Hoyas’ problem comes from within. Five straight March disappointments is plenty large enough a sample size to sound the alarms. John Thompson III’s system, highlighted by a slow-tempo offense that rarely deviates from Princeton sets, is also unique enough stylistically to raise concerns that the program may be resting on a fundamentally damaged foundation. Nobody should be willing to take that theory all the way, as slow-tempo teams have found plenty of March success over the years (75 percent of the 2013 Final Four ranked in the bottom 40 percent in possessions per game), but limiting possessions is an easy way to give a team with decidedly inferior talent a chance to win. It’s the same reason why underdogs will find winning one game easier than taking down a seven-game series, and just last season we saw Georgetown keep plenty of bad teams hanging around into the final minutes. Duquesne, Liberty, and Towson all ended the season outside the top 170 teams in the country (according to KenPom), but each lost by single figures to a Hoya team that would finish 301st in the country in possessions per game. That slow tempo is par for the course for Thompson-coached Hoya outfits; after finishing 70th nationally in possessions per game in Craig Esherick’s final year in 2004, the Hoyas have not ranked higher than 188th since. Let’s be real: This preference for a snail’s pace is not a sufficient answer to the question as a stand-alone, but the Hoyas rarely blow teams out (relative to other highly-seeded teams) and struggle to come back when they fall behind early – see 2010 (Ohio), 2011 (VCU), 2013 (FGCU) for some recent examples.

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20 Questions: Where Does Gonzaga Go After Last Season’s Highs and Lows?

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 22nd, 2013

seasonpreview-11

Throughout the preseason, RTC national columnists will answer the 20 most compelling questions heading into the 2013-14 season. Previous columns in this year’s series are located here.  

At certain moments last season, Gonzaga looked like a team that could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. It had all the necessary pieces: a great backcourt (Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell), a talented frontcourt (Elias Harris, Sam Dower, and Kelly Olynyk), a gritty defensive specialist (Mike Hart), and enough role players, it seemed, to bang with the sort of deep and athletic teams that had occasionally overwhelmed Mark Few’s teams of years past. The Bulldogs also had an impressive stack of non-conference wins to stick on their resume, victories over Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Davidson, Kansas State and Baylor (no, Baylor didn’t make the NCAAs, but that win sure looked good at the time!). It felt like this was the Gonzaga team that would, for the first time since Few replaced Dan Monson as head coach in 1999, roll on past the Sweet Sixteen. The 2012-13 Bulldogs, which had earned an NCAA #1 seed after obliterating the West Coast Conference competition – the Zags finished 16-0 in WCC play – seemed well-positioned to take the next step. Some believed Gonzaga had National Championship potential. Others were less optimistic. The consensus, though, was that this Gonzaga team was, for lack of a more descriptive word, good. Not just good like most of Few’s Gonzaga teams, but good enough to hang with the very best teams in the country.

One of the nation’s best backcourts is is led by Pangos, a two-time All-WCC honoree.

The subset of college hoops fans that believed Gonzaga was undeserving of its No. 1 seed were validated just two games into the NCAA Tournament when the Bulldogs fell to No. 9 seed and eventual Final Four participant Wichita State. In fact, charges that Gonzaga was overrated surfaced even before it lost to Wichita State; the Bulldogs’ narrow six-point win over Southern in the round of 64 was proof enough, for some, that Few’s team wasn’t a real national championship contender. Whenever you happened to jump off the bandwagon – if you jumped off it in the first place – there’s no denying that part of the reason Gonzaga lost to Wichita State had less to do with its own capabilities than it did an insanely well-timed shooting hot streak from the Shockers, who scored 23 points in nine possessions during a ridiculous second-half run. Maybe Gonzaga could have played better defense, and maybe a team like Louisville, whose swarming traps last season (0.83 points per possession) was some of the finest work on that end of the floor that any team has produced in the past decade, would have short-circuited the Shockers’ run. But when a team gets as hot as Wichita State did in that pivotal stretch, and three-point shots start dropping like free throws, you basically have no choice but to tip your cap and go home. In the moment, of course, the same old Gonzagian critiques flooded the national conversation: Just like I predicted! Gonzaga can’t play with the big boys! I knew it! Which, OK. Gonzaga was knocked out earlier than it should have been, but if we’re going to label last year’s Gonzaga team like the others that came before it – like the ones that stacked up easy regular season wins but weren’t prepared to handle the heat of the NCAA Tournament – can we at least acknowledge the circumstances surrounding the Bulldogs’ early NCAA Tournament exit? Is it really fair to paint Gonzaga with such broad strokes, if the team that bounced it from the NCAAs was, 1) a couple possessions away from beating eventual National Champion Louisville in the Final Four; and, 2) the beneficiary of a crazy run of long-range shooting? Introducing some nuance would be nice.

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20 Questions: Does Sam Dekker Make Wisconsin a Final Four Contender?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 21st, 2013

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Semantics matter. And semantics makes this one a no-brainer, in so many ways. No, Sam Dekker does not make Wisconsin a Final Four contender. Now don’t get me wrong, Wisconsin may well indeed be a Final Four contender (a question I’ll get to later), but if so, it is not solely due to Dekker. First and foremost, basketball is a team sport that requires five competent players on the court playing well together. And even in the best of cases, one superstar coupled with four, well, schmucks, does not make for a Final Four team, no matter how good that superstar is. And at a place like Wisconsin with a coach like Bo Ryan, this goes double. Under Ryan’s swing offense, the Badgers are going to run sound fundamental offensive basketball, coupled with hard-nosed stingy defense on the other end of the court, and they are going to take what the opponent gives them. Sometimes that will mean Dekker will be able to have big nights, but on other occasions, Wisconsin is going to need big contributions elsewhere. Even if Dekker has the best year in the history of Wisconsin basketball, the Badgers will still need some help.

Sam Dekker Leading Wisconsin To A Final Four? There Are Plenty Of Reasons To Be Skeptical (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker Leading Wisconsin To A Final Four? There Are Plenty Of Reasons To Be Skeptical. (USA Today Sports)

The second thought about this question, even taking away the nitpicking first paragraph of my answer is this: What has Sam Dekker done so far to deserve anything approaching a “yes” answer here? I like Dekker’s game and I know damn well that one of the things that makes Ryan such a successful coach is his ability to get players to improve from year to year. So I fully expect him to significantly better his 9.6 point and 3.4 rebound per game averages from his freshman campaign. And clearly with Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren all gone from the Wisconsin front line, there is going to plenty of room for Dekker to pile up minutes and crank up the production. But the fact that those three seniors have graduated means this team is less likely to compete for a Final Four this season than last, a year in which, I might remind you, the Badgers got knocked out in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament. Even if Dekker goes out and averages something like the 19.4 points per game he dropped in Wisconsin’s summer trip to Canada (a nightly average which would be the best year out of a Wisconsin player since Alando Tucker won the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2007), he’s still going to need plenty of scoring help from the returning backcourt of Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson, along with Josh Gasser, who returns from a season lost to an ACL tear. And frankly, while we can expect Dekker to improve, can we really expect him as a sophomore to be as good or better than guys like Tucker or Jon Leuer were as seniors? I think not.

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20 Questions: Can Michigan Remain Great Without Trey Burke?

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 18th, 2013

seasonpreview (1)

Throughout the preseason, RTC national columnists will answer the 20 most compelling questions heading into the 2013-14 season. Previous columns in this year’s series are located here.   

Replacing Trey Burke will be hard. Michigan fans have no doubt heard this statement plenty of times since the Wolverines’ exhilarating national championship game run ended in Atlanta last April, and they’re going to hear it a few more times before the season tips off in three weeks. Not only was Burke the best player on his own team, he was, according to most national award voters, the best player in the country. It is impossible to replace a player that good, that impactful, in the span of one offseason; all Michigan can hope to do is to mitigate his departure. But before we get into how the Wolverines will attempt to recreate Burke’s production, let’s have a statistical look back at his incredible 2012-13 season. While playing 87.5 percent of Michigan’s available minutes, Burke posted an offensive rating of 121.2 (52nd in the country), assisted on 37.3 percent of his team’s buckets (23rd) and used up 29 percent of available possessions (66th). All of which translates thusly: Burke played a lot, scored a lot, had a lot of assists, and did all of it efficiently.

The Wolverines should adjust to life without Burke while maintaining their status as a top-tier BIg Ten outfit (Getty Images).

The Wolverines should adjust to life without Burke while maintaining their status as a top-tier BIg Ten outfit (Getty Images).

There is no Michigan player capable of replicating that statistical profile – which ranked second in Ken Pomeroy’s final player of the year standings, behind (believe it or not) Louisville guard Russ Smith. That’s fine, because the Wolverines don’t need an All-American point guard to remain one of the best teams in the Big Ten. They have plenty of firepower returning at other spots. For a few weeks after the season, as the NBA Draft loomed and several Michigan players – including Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, both in position to parlay the momentum of standout March performances into likely first-round selections – debated leaving school, it appeared as if John Beilein might need to hunker down for a bit of a rebuild. Then Robinson and McGary announced their respective returns, and the repercussions of Burke’s departure didn’t feel quite as drastic. That duo’s decision ensured Michigan would stay relevant in what’s almost sure to be another brutal Big Ten. The matter of replacing Burke, of course, can’t be addressed by Robinson or McGary, nor does Michigan have a star point guard waiting in the wings, another surefire first-round pick capable of reprising Burke’s ridiculous production from last season.

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20 Questions: Can a Third SEC Team Emerge as a National Player?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on October 17th, 2013

seasonpreview (1)

Throughout the preseason, RTC national columnists will answer the 20 most compelling questions heading into the 2013-14 season. Previous columns in this year’s series are located here.   

Basketball in the Southeastern Conference has long been dominated by Kentucky and Florida. Since 1997, those two schools have combined for four times as many National Championships as the rest of the conference has Final Four appearances. LSU’s 2006 national semifinal appearance was a proud moment for the Tiger program, but outside of that showing and a more recent flourish from Tennessee (six straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2006-11), it’s hard to find too many SEC teams not named Kentucky or Florida that have made waves nationally. The forecast for 2013-14 doesn’t look a whole lot different than usual, with the Gators and Wildcats climbing into most experts’ preseason Top 25s, the two powers again finding separation from their conference mates. But is there another team in the league capable of surprising the experts and making a push into the national consciousness? The track record of the rest of the conference makes it difficult to be overly optimistic about the prospects of any team making that leap, but a talented Tennessee team with some valuable newfound stability could prove capable of pulling up a third seat at a dinner table that has long sat only two.

Good Luck Finding A Tougher Inside Duo -- SEC Or Elsewhere -- Than Tennessee's Pair Of Bruisers: Jarnell Stokes And Jeronne Maymon

Good Luck Finding A Tougher Inside Duo — SEC Or Elsewhere — Than Tennessee’s Pair Of Bruisers: Jarnell Stokes And Jeronne Maymon

Given the recent success of the Bruce Pearl era (at least when he wasn’t doubling as a grill-master) and the expansive women’s basketball tradition in Knoxville, Tennessee would certainly seem like the most natural program to be poised for a step up in national notoriety. Cuonzo Martin’s first two seasons at the helm in Knoxville exhibited some of that promise, but the Vols would up just short of the NCAA Tournament in each campaign. This season, the talent is in place to not only make the field of 68, but also do some damage upon arrival.

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