2016-17 RTC National Coach of the Year: Mark Few

Posted by Walker Carey on March 31st, 2017

The 2016-17 RTC National Coach of the Year Mark Few is a Gonzaga lifer. He served on Gonzaga’s staff from 1989-99 before taking over the head coaching position after Dan Monson left for the Minnesota job prior to the 1999-2000 season. Few has been wildly successful ever since. He has presided over 16 West Coast Conference championship teams and has led the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament in all 18 of his seasons in Spokane. While 36 wins, a #1 seed and a #1 ranking this season are undeniable markers of great success, Few has drawn some criticism over the years for Gonzaga’s relative lack of NCAA Tournament success. Between 2010 and 2014, for example, the Bulldogs failed to make it past the first weekend, losing five straight times in the Round of 32. The most disappointing of those early exits came in 2013 when #1 seed Gonzaga (for the first time in school history) was vanquished by eventual Final Four participant Wichita State. Gonzaga recovered nicely over the next two years, however, advancing to the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen, respectively, before this season’s workmanlike run to Glendale. With several new shiny toys on Few’s roster this year — some key transfers and his first-ever McDonald’s All-American — it appears as if Gonzaga is poised to reach unprecedented heights.

Gonzaga completed its regular season mission with ease. The Bulldogs entered the NCAA Tournament with a 32-1 record and — just like in 2013 — the top seed in the West Region. The first weekend was far kinder to Few’s squad this time around, though, as Gonzaga coasted into the second weekend with victories over South Dakota State and Northwestern. The Bulldogs had a much more difficult task in facing a relentless West Virginia squad in the Sweet Sixteen. The Mountaineers forced the Zags into their style of basketball — an ugly, brick-filled affair — but Few pulled all the right strings down the stretch to handle the West Virginia pressure, allowing his team to advance to the Elite Eight with a gutsy three-point victory. Gonzaga then easily dispatched a plucky Xavier squad to get the proverbial Final Four monkey off the program’s back.

Gonzaga will face a difficult task this weekend in trying to take home the program’s first National Championship. It will first have to beat NCAA Tournament darling South Carolina in Saturday’s semifinal — a team known for a ferocious defensive attack that has made things a nightmare for their opponents. If the Bulldogs can surpass that hurdle, another arduous task awaits on Monday night when they would have to face either Oregon or North Carolina. With Few’s program running on all cylinders and the monkey finally removed, though, it would surprise nobody if Gonzaga becomes the first team from outside the power conference elite to cut down the nets this weekend in Glendale.

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2016-17 RTC National Player of the Year: Frank Mason III

Posted by Walker Carey on March 31st, 2017

One of the coolest things about collegiate athletics is when a relatively unheralded recruit develops into one of the country’s best players. College basketball has experienced this a few times in recent years with the likes of Trey Burke at Michigan, Victor Oladipo at Indiana and Doug McDermott at Creighton, but the case of 2016-17 RTC National Player of the Year Frank Mason III, though, is particularly unique. The Kansas point guard from Petersburg, Virginia, originally signed with Towson before a failing grade in a state-mandated government class torpedoed that plan. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the young player, as his stock rose considerably during a post-graduate year at Massanutten Military Academy (VA). Kansas was looking at a variety of point guard options at the time, but it was not until Cat Barber signed with NC State, Chris Jones went to Louisville, Demetrius Jackson went to Notre Dame, and Jordan McLaughlin went to USC that head coach Bill Self was willing to pull the trigger on Mason. That stroke of good fortune resulted in the development of a standout player who became a three-time all-Big 12 player and an All-American during a very successful four-season run in Lawrence.

While Mason was already a very good starting point guard during his sophomore and junior seasons, he took a superstar turn this season. What the dynamic playmaker lacked in stature – he stands at just 5’11” – he made up for it with a knack for making big plays and coming through in the clutch. Not only did Mason lead the Big 12 in scoring at 20.9 points per game, but he also became one of the country’s most reliable three-point shooters at 47.1 percent mark behind the arc. The performance that perfectly highlights how dominant Mason was this year came in Kansas’ regular season finale at Oklahoma State — in a battle with Cowboys’ point guard Jawun Evans, Mason finished with 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in an all-around effort. The floor leader turned in another virtuoso performance last week during the Jayhawks’ run to the Elite Eight. In their dominating Sweet Sixteen victory over Big Ten regular season champion Purdue, Mason controlled the entire game to finish with 26 points (9-of-11 FG and 4-of-5 3FG), seven assists and seven rebounds.

While Kansas’ season ended unexpectedly in a disappointing loss to #3 seed Oregon, it is difficult to characterize the Jayhawks’ season as a failure. Self’s team took home its 13th straight Big 12 regular season title – and considering its stark lack of depth, especially on the interior — this one was as difficult as any of the previous 12. The most important component of Kansas’s team success, though, was the steadying influence of Mason. The same Mason who was signed to play college basketball at Towson. The same Mason who ended up at an unknown military academy because of an academic misstep. The same Mason who needed several strokes of luck to wind up at Kansas, but made the most of the opportunity that he was given. College basketball success stories can be overblown and hyperbolic, but Mason’s rise to our 2016-17 RTC Player of the Year is truly one for the history books.

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2016-17 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 30th, 2017

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what will come during the upcoming season. There will always be several players who fall short of expectations and there will always be several relatively unknown types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams in November; nobody could have guessed that only five of the 15 players chosen would live up to their hype; Villanova’s Josh Hart, Oregon’s Dillon Brooks, Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris, Washington’s Markelle Fultz, and Kansas’ Josh Jackson. Hart was the only player projected to be a first-teamer who ended up there. The 10 other players who did not make our postseason team are Duke’s Grayson Allen and Jayson Tatum, California’s Ivan Rabb, Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes, Indiana’s Thomas Bryant, NC State’s Dennis Smith, Xavier’s Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett, and Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo. All turned in varying degrees of productive seasons but were surpassed in achievements by the names that moved ahead of them on our list. Here are the 2016-17 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

  • Frank Mason, Senior, Kansas (consensus) (20.9 PPG, 5.2 APG, 49% FG, 47.1% 3FG). After being little more than a complementary contributor during his first three seasons in Lawrence, Mason wrapped up his collegiate career this season in spectacular fashion. What the point guard lack lacks in stature (he is listed at just 5’11”), he made up for it in big time performances. Kansas earned its 13th consecutive Big 12 regular season title and advanced to the Elite Eight this season, and neither of those would have been possible without Mason elevating his game to a superstar level. One of the coolest things about college basketball is when a relatively unheralded recruit develops into one of the country’s most accomplished players – and Mason certainly personified that in his senior season. Kansas fields a great team every year, but it is certain the Jayhawks will miss Mason’s services when they hit the hardwood again next fall.
  • Josh Hart, Senior, Villanova (consensus) (18.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 51% FG, 40.4% 3FG). Hart starred on last season’s National Championship team, but he took his game to another level during his senior season. The Big East Player of the Year joined Villanova legend Kerry Kittles as the only players in program history to amass 1,800 points, 700 rebounds, 250 assists, and 150 steals. Villanova’s season ended with a surprising Second Round loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament, but that defeat should not cloud anyone’s perception of Hart’s season, as he was phenomenal from the opening tip of the first game to the final buzzer of the last one.
  • Lonzo Ball, Freshman, UCLA (consensus) (14.6 PPG, 7.6 APG, 6.0 RPG, 55.1% FG). Last year at this time, UCLA was coming off a very disappointing 15-17 season that suggested the 2016-17 campaign would be a make-or-break year for Steve Alford in Westwood. Luckily for the Bruins’ head coach, the arrival of Ball as the gem of a star-studded recruiting class aided significantly in morphing UCLA from a losing team to a Sweet Sixteen squad. A dynamic point guard known for his incredible court vision and ability to make his teammates better, Ball also helped had a knack for making key plays in big games – most notably in a December win at Kentucky and in a February home win over Oregon. Unfortunately for Bruins fans, they will not get to experience more of those star performances, as Ball quickly made his intention to enter the NBA Draft known following UCLA’s Sweet Sixteen loss to Kentucky.
  • Justin Jackson, Junior, North Carolina (18.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.8 APG). Following North Carolina’s heartbreaking defeat to Villanova in last year’s title game, Jackson chose to test the NBA Draft waters before ultimately returning to Chapel Hill for his junior season. At the time, Jackson stated, “The best choice for my basketball future is to return to school and play for the Tar Heels next season.” His statement turned out to be prophetic, as he became North Carolina’s go-to guy on his way to leading the team in scoring and earning the ACC Player of the Year award. The Tar Heels are a balanced unit with talent littering the roster, but Jackson’s emergence to stardom is the most important reason why Roy Williams’ team has another chance to play for the title this weekend in Phoenix.
  • Caleb Swanigan, Sophomore, Purdue (18.5 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 52.7% FG, 44.7% 3FG). The sophomore big man was a double-double machine for the regular season Big Ten champion — finishing a stellar year with 28 double-doubles and having four games where he grabbed 20 or more rebounds. A big reason for Swanigan’s increased productivity in his sophomore campaign was improved conditioning, as his minutes per game rose from 25.7 to 32.5. He also added a reliable three-point shot to his arsenal, improving his percentage in that are of the game to a robust 44.7 percent. As a result, the Boilermakers advanced to their first Sweet Sixteen since 2010, and that charge was led by a monster season from the All-American.

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College Hoops Luminaries Take Center Stage at Hall of Fame Inductions

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 19th, 2016

To some degree, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall Of Fame will always live in the shadow of the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, which celebrates the game at every level around the world. If you were a great pro, chances are you were also great in college, so why not just cover it all in one fell swoop? That thinking ignores the reality that there will always be highly accomplished college players who, for one reason or another, couldn’t replicate their success at the next level, but that doesn’t mean those NCAA careers shouldn’t get their due somewhere. This Hall of Fame serves those players and coaches as well as the lucky few who were fortunate enough to reach the pinnacle of the game at both levels. On Friday night, eight storied inductees joined the ranks among the best collegians ever. Let’s take a look at each.

Dominique Wilkins, Georgia

Dominique Wilkins put Georgia basketball on the map in the early 80's with his relentless athleticism and thunderous dunks. (SI)

Dominique Wilkins put Georgia basketball on the map in the early 1980s with his relentless athleticism and thunderous dunks. (SI)

The Bulldogs aren’t exactly relevant right now, but they were even less so until the early 1980s when The Human Highlight Film arrived in Athens and changed everything, if only for a short time. In just three seasons, Wilkins scored 1,688 points — including many in intense, dazzling, electrifying fashion — and won SEC Player of the Year in 1981. Alhough the Bulldogs didn’t make the NCAA Tournament in any of ‘Nique’s three seasons, he brought enough attention to the program in the eyes of recruits for Georgia to make three appearances by the end of the decade, including a surprising run to the Final Four in 1983.
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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 10th, 2016

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

1stteam

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Pac-12 Coach of the Year Debate: Dana Altman vs. Sean Miller

Posted by Mike Lemaire & Adam Butler on November 9th, 2016

There is no clear-cut favorite in this season’s race for Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Most pundits are picking Oregon‘s Dana Altman but it feels like he is winning by default. Altman has something working against him, though, which is that expectations are already sky high in Eugene. If Oregon wins the conference it may be because they were expected to win the conference, and if the Ducks underachieve, Altman will quickly fall out of the race. I still think that Altman is the right pick and the correct pick. Adam and his eternal soft spot for Sean Miller respectfully disagrees. Here’s the case for each.

The Case for Sean Miller

Sean Miller Has His Work Cut Out For Him This Season (USA Today Images)

Sean Miller Has His Work Cut Out For Him This Season (USA Today Images)

As of today we must acknowledge that we don’t know that status of Allonzo Trier. He’s pretty good at basketball and critical to Arizona‘s success this season. That said, if he misses extended time and the Wildcats still finish among the top three teams in this conference, it should only further cement Miller’s claim on Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Beyond the fact that the conference set a precedent of rewarding overachievers (all of the 2015 awards), Miller is poised to navigate a Pac-12 season with a group of talented players all of whom are in brand new experiences. Considering Altman returns 68 percent of the minutes played by his rotation last season and UCLA’s Steve Alford is only moving players into more natural positions, Miller will almost certainly have a larger impact on his team’s success that some of his counterparts. And in making this candidacy, I don’t want to paint the Wildcats as underdogs. They’re not. They’re ranked 10th nationally and even in the absence of Trier (and now, Ray Smith) they still rate as a top-30 team according to Sports Illustrated‘s What-If scenarios. Even with just eight scholarship players, none of whom has significant experience in their role, expectations are always lofty in Tucson. But Arizona only plays Oregon once (in Eugene) and has a schedule that is favorable so that this inexperienced, albeit loosely veteran, roster can have time to develop. Miller teams trend well late in the season and this is a group that likely won’t buck that trend.

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2015-16 RTC National Player of the Year: Buddy Hield

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2016

This college basketball season was the “year of the senior.” Seniors like Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, North Carolina’s Brice Johnson, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff, Kansas’ Perry Ellis, and Iowa State’s Georges Niang were all yesterday named to the RTC All-America Teams. They each put together amazing seasons in lifting their teams to outstanding regular season success and NCAA Tournament berths. As excellent as those players were, however, there was one senior who stood out among the pack. That player is Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield. In this era of the one-and-done superstar, it might be cynical to view a senior winning the National Player of the Year award as something approaching a career achievement award. But while Hield put together a successful first three seasons in Norman, he saved his best for last this year. The dynamic shooting guard averaged an incredible 25.4 points per game while shooting 50.4 percent from the field and a very impressive 46.5 percent from three. In an offense completely centered around Hield’s explosive offensive skills, Oklahoma averaged a robust 80.4 points per game.

Buddy Hield is the 2015-16 RTC Player of the Year  (Getty Images)

Buddy Hield is the 2015-16 RTC Player of the Year (Getty Images)

Hield put together many sensational games this season, but two performances in particular come to mind as the most memorable. In a January 4 epic triple-overtime Big 12 battle between Oklahoma and Kansas, the casual college basketball fan became acquainted with Hield’s heroics. The All-American finished the evening in Allen Fieldhouse with a career-high 46 points on 13-of-23 shooting, along with eight rebounds and seven assists. It was such an amazing effort that Kansas fans gave Hield a standing ovation, and one that will be remembered in Norman and around the college basketball world for years to come. The other memorably outstanding performance came in the Elite Eight when Hield’s star power led the Sooners past #1 seed Oregon and into the program’s first Final Four in 14 years. The senior contributed 37 points on 13-of-20 shooting and 8-of-13 from behind the three-point line. Oklahoma will face a staunch test when it takes on Villanova in the Final Four Saturday night, but it would be unwise to discount the Sooners’ chances of advancing whenever a star like Hield is involved.

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2015-16 RTC National Coach of the Year: Jay Wright

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2016

The 2015-16 RTC National Coach of the Year Jay Wright has been a winner throughout his 15-year tenure at Villanova. He has led the Wildcats to 11 of the last 12 NCAA Tournaments and the program has taken home four Big East titles under his guidance. Even with all that winning and a Final Four appearance in 2009, the veteran coach has received some criticism in recent years because of several early NCAA Tournament exits. In 2014, Villanova entered the NCAA Tournament with a 28-4 record and was viewed as a dangerous #2 seed. That buzz fizzled out quickly, though, as the Wildcats were sent packing by eventual national champion Connecticut in the Round of 32. The next year it appeared Villanova was in even better shape to make a deep run. Wright’s group compiled a sterling 32-2 regular season that included a 15-game winning streak heading into the NCAAs. That did not matter much, though, as the Wildcats were once again bounced in the Round of 32 — this time at the hands of streaky NC State. With a mostly veteran squad returning this season, Villanova looked once again ready to combine a strong regular season with deep advancement into the NCAA Tournament.

Jay Wright is the 2015-16 RTC Coach of the Year  (AP)

Jay Wright is the 2015-16 RTC Coach of the Year (AP)

Villanova completed its first mission with relative ease, taking home another Big East regular season title and entering the NCAA Tournament with a 29-5 record as a #2 seed. Wright’s Wildcats easily exorcised their first weekend demons two weeks ago in Brooklyn by routing #15 seed UNC-Asheville and #7 seed Iowa. Even with those two impressive wins, pundits still doubted the team’s legitimacy heading into its Sweet Sixteen game with #3 seed Miami (FL). Villanova easily proved those doubters wrong, as it blew the Hurricanes off the floor en route to a 92-69 victory. But even that rousing victory did the Wildcats no favors with their critics. An Elite Eight victory against overall #1 seed Kansas appeared unlikely, but Wright’s veteran squad took the challenge and battled forward to a 64-59 victory. The regional-clinching win sent the Villanova program back to the Final Four for the first time since 2009.

The Wildcats will face a difficult test on Saturday when it faces Oklahoma and NPOY candidate Buddy Hield. The Oklahoma guard is a dynamic scorer with a proven ability to take over a game every time he takes the floor. Villanova is going to have to play a sound defensive game to contain Hield and emerge with the victory. Luckily for Villanova fans, Wright has shown a steady touch with this group all season long and you better believe it will be ready for the challenge. Our RTC National Coach of the Year will know what buttons to push and put his team in a position to win if it executes reasonably well. It is only the latest version of what he has been doing since he began patrolling the sideline at Villanova all those many years ago.

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2015-16 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on March 31st, 2016

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what’s to come during the season. There will always be players who will fail to live up to expectations and there will always be relatively unknown types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our outfit of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams back in November; nobody could have guessed that only eight of the 15 players chosen would live up to the hype: Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon, LSU’s Ben Simmons, Providence’s Kris Dunn, Utah’s Jakob Poeltl, Kentucky’s Jamal Murray, and Iowa State’s Georges Niang. Hield and Simmons were the only two players projected to be first-teamers and ended up there. The seven other players who did not make our postseason team are Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer, Wichita State’s Ron Baker, Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere, Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes. All turned in varying degrees of productive seasons but were surpassed in achievements by the names that rose to the top of our list. Here are the 2015-16 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

first_team_2016

  • Buddy Hield, Senior, Oklahoma (consensus) (25.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 50.4% FG, 46.5% 3FG). Hield has wrapped up his collegiate career in dynamite fashion. After bypassing the NBA Draft last spring, Hield noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” Suffice it to say Hield was correct, as the Sooners are headed to their first Final Four since 2002. The explosive senior scorer has led the way all season with possibly no performance greater than the one he turned in during Oklahoma’s Elite Eight victory over Oregon. Hield finished the night with 37 points on a blistering 13-of-20 shooting from the field and an extremely impressive 8-of-13 outing from behind the three-point line. This college basketball season has been marked by uncertainty, but with Hield in tow, it is probably smart not to doubt Oklahoma’s chances in Houston this weekend.
  • Denzel Valentine, Senior, Michigan State (consensus) (19.2 PPG, 7.8 APG, 7.5 RPG, 46.2% FG). There was likely not a more complete player in college basketball this season. Valentine did it all for the Spartans and it seemed like the senior really stepped his game up in big spots throughout the regular season. He turned in an iconic triple-double in Michigan State’s early comeback victory over Kansas and came through with a 30-point performance in a February home victory over eventual Big Ten champion Indiana. While the Spartans saw their season end in a shocking upset to Middle Tennessee State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Valentine’s incredible campaign should not be discounted in any way.
  • Brice Johnson, Senior, North Carolina (consensus) (17.1 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 61.6% FG). Given North Carolina’s lofty postseason expectations, it is not entirely unexpected that the Tar Heels are headed to the Final Four as the favorite to cut down the nets on Monday night. What has been a bit unexpected, though, is the rise of Johnson from a good player as a junior to a bona fide star as a senior. Johnson’s improvement over the course of his career has been so great that Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams has referred to his senior as the most improved player he has ever coached. To provide a glimpse of just how important Johnson has been to North Carolina’s run to Houston, consider the fact that he has recorded at least 20 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds in each of his team’s last three games.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Senior, Virginia (18.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 45.7% FG). Virginia has been one of the most successful programs in the country over the last three seasons. It took home the ACC crown in both 2014 and 2015, and it earned a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this year. A major reason behind this success has been Brogdon’s ascension into stardom. Brogdon’s fantastic senior campaign led him to being named both the ACC’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year – becoming the first player to win both awards since the defensive honor was introduced in 2005.
  • Ben Simmons, Freshman, LSU (19.2 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 4.8 APG, 56.0% FG). It is not often you see a player turn in a first team All-America season on a team that finished 19-14 and did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but this is that situation. The freshman entered the season with an unbelievable amount of hype, but somehow amid the hoopla, he handled it quite well. Simmons led LSU in points, rebounds and assists, and was clearly the team’s best player all season long. Simmons has already made it known that he is headed to the NBA Draft, but his lone season in Baton Rouge should be remembered for his consistently great on-court performances.

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Handing Out the SEC Awards

Posted by David Changas on March 9th, 2016

Unlike the coaches, the SEC microsite writers stick to a rule of putting only five members on their all-conference team. Clearly, making our group should mean more to those selected than having the coaches pick them.

All-SEC Team

Tyler Ulis is playing at an MVP level (Getty)

Tyler Ulis is the hands-down choice for SEC Player of the Year. (Getty)

  • Tyler Ulis, Kentucky (SEC Player of the Year)
  • Jamal Murray, Kentucky
  • Ben Simmons, LSU
  • Jalen Jones, Texas A&M
  • Stefan Moody, Ole Miss

Credible cases could be made for Damian Jones, Kevin Punter, Retin Obasohan, and Michael Carrera, among others, but the five selected stood out as the five best.

SEC Player of the Year

Tyler Ulis, Kentucky. The diminutive Kentucky point guard successfully made the leap from role player on a 38-win team of all-stars to the leader of one of the nation’s best backcourts. Playing almost every important minute of every contest, Ulis averaged 16.6 points and a league-leading 7.4 assists per game. But it was the way in which he could dominate a game at only 5’9″ that separates him from the pack. If the Wildcats are going to make their usual run later this month, Ulis will be the catalyst that make it happen.

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