2013-14 RTC Class Schedule: Syracuse Orange

Posted by BHayes on August 28th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler. Periodically throughout the preseason, RTC will take an in-depth look at the schedules of some of the more prominent teams in college basketball.

In many ways, the 2013-14 season looks to be business as usual at Syracuse. The roster is deep and talented, expectations are sky-high, and Jim Boeheim is manning the sidelines for the Orange. But you can rest assured that there will have never been a Syracuse basketball season like this one. The day is finally here – the Orange, charter members of the Big East conference, are now officially ACC constituents. Heading south with them are former Big East brethren Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. The addition of these three formidable basketball programs makes the ACC, at least on paper, the toughest hoops conference in the land.

Jim Boeheim And CJ Fair Are Looking Forward To Syracuse's First Year In The ACC

Jim Boeheim And C.J. Fair Are Looking Forward To Syracuse’s First Year In the ACC

  • Team Outlook: Duke will undoubtedly be eager to remind the newbies that the ACC is its conference to rule, but Syracuse should be as poised as any foe to upend the Blue Devils. The Orange frontcourt is loaded, with junior and all-Big East second teamer C.J. Fair (14.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG) leading the charge. Surrounding Fair up front is a trio of high-upside sophomores. Rakeem Christmas (5.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.8 BPG), DaJuan Coleman (4.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG), and Jerami Grant (3.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG) are all expected to see an uptick in production in year two, but of the three, it is Grant who has the best chance to quickly transform himself from role player into star. Junior Baye Keita (8.6 block percentage) will also see minutes up front, while Duke transfer Michael Gbinije and freshman B.J. Johnson will battle to find time in this crowded frontcourt. Not surprisingly, given the remarkable depth up front, the question marks for Jim Boeheim and the Orange all appear in the backcourt. Gone are Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche, leaving Trevor Cooney as the sole backcourt returnee who saw any time a year ago. The sophomore is an engaged and capable defender, but will be expected to shoot the ball better from the outside this time around (he was just 27% from three as a freshman). He may also be tasked with handling some backup point guard duties, as there is no obvious reserve for presumptive starter Tyler Ennis. Ennis, a freshman from Ontario, California, may be the most important player on the Orange roster. With said deficit of ball-handlers, the consensus top-25 recruit will have the rock in his hands a whole lot, and what he does with it will go a long ways towards determining the fate of this Syracuse season. With all the talent around him he does not need to be nearly as dynamic as MCW was a year ago, but with few other options around, he most certainly has to play a solid floor game for the Orange to begin to tap their full potential. Read the rest of this entry »
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2011-12 RTC Class Schedule: Missouri Tigers

Posted by zhayes9 on September 27th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Is it possible for a head coach to be on the hot seat the day of his hiring?

Hook Frank Haith up to a lie detector and the answer would surely be in the affirmative.

Unless there were dozens of prospective candidates that privately turned down Missouri after Matt Painter abstained, Haith was certainly a curious second choice. While Miami doesn’t provide nearly the facilities or unending fan devotion as their ACC counterparts, a 43-69 career conference mark normally doesn’t result in a job upgrade. There’s no captivating NCAA Tournament run to highlight, either; Haith reached one NCAA Tournament in seven seasons at the helm and fell in the second round. In the eyes of Missouri AD Mike Alden, Haith’s wealth of experience as an assistant in the Big 12 at Texas A&M and Texas supersede the aforementioned red flags.

To make matters even more tenuous for the new Missouri coach, Haith’s name was mentioned in Nevin Shapiro’s bombshell allegations regarding the Miami football and basketball programs. Shapiro alleges that Haith had full knowledge of a $10,000 payment from Shapiro to secure the services of heralded recruit DeQuan Jones. Haith claims the allegations are “not an accurate portrayal of my character.” If the accusation did occur, Haith could be terminated for reasons that have nothing to do with conference record or on-court performance.

Despite this doom-and-gloom picture I just painted, there are actually plenty of reasons to be eager for the season to begin in Columbia. This team clearly has the ammunition to win a Big 12 that lacks a clear frontrunner with Baylor’s point guard issues, Kansas more vulnerable than at any time in the last decade and Texas A&M going through a coaching transition. In fact, with eight of their nine main contributors returning, Haith is walking into the best situation of any new head coach.

Haith needs to win at Missouri sooner than later

Team Outlook: There are tantalizing players lining the Missouri roster, but the only way the Tigers can truly make the next step into elite status is by improving their lackluster defense and winning more than one conference road game. A top-15 defensive team in 2010-11, Missouri fell to #65 last season and won just two road contests at Oregon and Iowa State. Hiring a coach whose Miami team placed ninth in the ACC in defensive efficiency is a head-scratcher. Marcus Denmon had a fantastic junior campaign, scoring nearly 17 PPG, shooting 50% from the field, making 45% of his threes and turning the ball over on a meager 8.2% of his possessions. Despite being undersized, Missouri is most effective when Denmon is teamed with Mike Dixon, a plucky 6’1 guard who posted elite assist and steal rates as a sophomore. Kim English has never been a model of efficiency, but he really scuffled shooting the rock in 2011-12 and needs to improve significantly. The frontcourt is bolstered by double-double threat Ricardo Ratliffe and the reliable Laurence Bowers, while Phil Pressey is a sparkplug off the pine. There’s depth, talent and plenty of promise on this roster. Whether they can adjust to a new system and toughen up on the road are lingering questions.

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2011-12 RTC Class Schedule: Arizona Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on September 19th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

In April of 2009, Sean Miller accepted the head coaching position at the University of Arizona. During the 29 months since that hiring, one can make a realistic argument that Sean Miller has done the best job of any coach in America.

Miller took over a team that finished a lackluster 17-19 in Pac-10 play in the previous two years under Kevin O’Neill and Russ Pennell, had their expected roster gutted following the coaching switch and was mired in a program malaise that hadn’t lingered around the McKale Center since Lute Olson first took the job in the mid-1980s. In just two years time, Miller’s launched Arizona into unexpected heights so soon and so dramatically: a full-on pasting of Duke in last year’s Sweet 16, the grooming of the #2 overall pick in the NBA Draft and an incredible haul of blue chip prospects headed to Tucson to keep the fire burning into the future.

The program has reached a point where, despite the losses of their superstar forward Derrick Williams and point guard Lamont Jones, Arizona is favored to claim the Pac-12 crown in 2011-12 over the likes of UCLA, California and Washington. That speaks to the depth that Miller has assembled at Arizona not too long after the losses of Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill left the program facing a rebuilding project too steep for the likes of John Calipari, Jamie Dixon, Mark Few and even Tim Floyd to take on.

With apologies to Brad Stevens, there’s not a coach I’d rather have leading my program into the next decade than Miller.

Sean Miller has revived a stagnant Arizona program

Team Outlook: Although the loss of Williams is mammoth, a player so efficient last season he nearly caused Ken Pomeroy’s head to explode, there’s a nice blend of veterans and talented freshman to expect only a minimal drop in offensive production. Junior Solomon Hill provided a preview to the Arizona faithful of his potential during a 16/8 on 7-12 FG performance against Texas in last year’s second round and has the versatility to play either forward spot at 6’6. Kyle Fogg should be shooting 2,000 jumpers per day over the offseason after shooting 37% from the field as a junior, especially because he could be their most frequent gunner in 2011-12. Kevin Parrom finished in the top-50 in offensive rating among role players as a sophomore and is one of the most underrated swingmen in the nation. Jordin Mayes finished second in the conference in three-point shooting at 45% as a freshman and really came on strong in March. Freshman Josiah Turner could start at the point from day one after Jones’ transferred to Iona over the offseason. Whether this team can blend on the floor with a rookie floor general and sans Williams are legitimate concerns.

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2011-12 RTC Class Schedule: Kentucky Wildcats

Posted by zhayes9 on September 14th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Recruiting rankings are a tricky science. For every Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and Tyreke Evans that rightfully hold fort among the upper echelons of nearly every recruiting publication, there’s a Gerald Green, B.J. Mullens or Lance Stephenson that fades into the abyss rather than catapults into the spotlight. Scouts spend countless hours on the recruiting trail and still whiff just as often as they discover the next diamond in the rough. When rankings, lists, stars or other overly effusive praise is heaped upon immature 16 or 17-year olds, throwing caution to the wind is usually a good strategy.

If the recruiting gurus have it right this time around, then the incoming class debuting at Kentucky this fall may be the best of John Calipari’s coaching career.

No, Marquis Teague has not directed his first half-court set. Anthony Davis hasn’t dunked over SEC-caliber big men. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hasn’t defended an explosive scorer on the wing, nor has Kyle Wiltjer had to fight for a rebound against 270-pound centers. But there’s a reason why the most respected in the recruiting world have these four incoming freshmen all placed in the top three at their respective positions, and surely we’re going to see those reasons sooner than later on Rupp Arena’s hallowed hardwood.

Throw in another future lottery pick in Terrence Jones, the purest of pure shooters in Doron Lamb, a do-everything senior starter on the wing in Darius Miller and a coach that patches together top-10 defensive teams year in and year out despite absurd turnover, and there’s plenty of reasons why most have Kentucky one line under North Carolina as the 2011-12 season approaches.

Of course, it’s only a ranking, a number, a list. What really counts begins in November.

Darius Miller and Eloy Vargas represent the lone seniors for Kentucky

Team Outlook: Kentucky is loaded with talent and, unlike last season, blessed with depth. Whereas Josh Harrellson, not exactly a model for prime conditioning, had to play upwards of 35 minutes per game deep into Kentucky’s run to the Final Four a season ago, Calipari has the luxury of shuffling Davis, backup center Eloy Vargas and even the 6’9 Wiltjer at the center position. Davis’ upside is nearly unlimited, drawing Kevin Garnett comparisons because of his versatility, mid-range capabilities and rebounding instincts. Calipari also has a plethora of capable wings at his disposal. Kidd-Gilchrist is the most complete incoming freshman in the country and the sophomore Jones is a future top-ten pick who showed glimpses of stardom before fading in the second half of his debut season. Doron Lamb shot a remarkable 49% from three despite the consensus that freshmen struggle to make shots and he’s almost an afterthought given the incoming freshmen and Jones’ return. The real test will be whether rookie Marquis Teague can continue Calipari’s point guard assembly line. There may be headaches and learning moments early, but given Calipari’s track record, Teague should prove himself more than capable.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 8. Possibly engrained in his line of thinking from days at UMass and Memphis where non-conference duels often provided stiffer tests than in January and February, Calipari has always scheduled aggressively and this season is no different. It’s a perfect storm for a predominantly young Kentucky squad with both North Carolina and Louisville, two teams most consider top-10 outfits, traveling to Rupp. Their SEC/Big East Challenge opponent is also at home against a likely-overwhelmed St. John’s team. The possible road/neutral tests: Kansas in NYC, Old Dominion in Connecticut and a true road game at Indiana. Although the Hoosiers appear to be making slow strides back to relevance on the floor and major leaps on the recruiting trail, I suspect Kentucky will dispatch the upstart Hoosiers in similar fashion to their contest two seasons ago.

Cupcake City: Major props should be extended to Calipari for testing his team regardless of their youth, but, like any other coach from a blue-blood program, buy games are part of the equation. Out of the schedules I’ve seen thus far, the order of Kentucky’s slate is the most appealing from a strategic standpoint (unlike, say, Michigan State, who opens with some teams named North Carolina and Duke). Kentucky welcomes Marist as a warmup for Kansas. They mix in Radford and Portland before St. John’s, UNC and Indiana. They take their foot off the gas to avoid burnout before the intensity that Louisville provides. It’s precisely how I’d structure my schedule as a coach of an elite program with sky-high expectations.

Toughest Early Season Test: It’s the game of the century. Okay, maybe that’s ridiculous hyperbole, but barring an unforeseen upset, Kentucky will welcome North Carolina to Lexington for a possible national title preview that will feature as many as nine first-round draft picks, two coaching celebrities that manage the most recognizable programs in the nation and a national TV audience on CBS. Keep an eye on how the wily veteran Miller handles the daunting task of defending Harrison Barnes and if Davis can hold his own down low against Carolina’s length.

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2011-12 RTC Class Schedule: Ohio State Buckeyes

Posted by zhayes9 on September 12th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

In the immediate aftermath of Ohio State’s premature outing in the Sweet 16 last March, with emotions running high and thoughts clearly unfiltered, Jared Sullinger made a promise. The Columbus native swore to anyone who would listen that such a bitter ending to a once-promising season meant he’d be back in scarlet and gray next year.

Of course, this is a common habit in college basketball. Superstars from across the nation see their season’s come to a dramatic conclusion and promise revenge before the voices of agents, endorsements and draft advisors enter the picture. Once the dramatics have died down and the options are juggled, the superstar thanks his school for the opportunity and moves on to NBA riches.

Except Jared Sullinger was serious. The Columbus native was not about to see his collegiate career end three rounds too early. Instead, the top freshman in the country next season shed some weight, refined a lacking mid-range game and returns to Ohio State as dedicated and headstrong as ever. Those NBA prospects can wait one more year.

Jared Sullinger is the early favorite for national player of the year

Team Outlook: Sullinger’s stunning decision catapults the Buckeyes to a familiar state as preseason Big Ten favorites. He’s joined by fellow sophomore Aaron Craft at the point, a wildly intelligent and steady presence at such a vital position. The top scoring option on the perimeter is senior William Buford, a potential first round pick that improved his shot-making. Only Sullinger utilized more possessions when on the floor than DeShaun Thomas last season. After shooting 54% from inside the arc with promising rebound rates, Thomas is primed for a breakout campaign if he shows more discretion. Look for freshman center Amir Williams to act as the primary operator in the post if Sullinger expands his game, while LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott and Jordan Sibert should all get looks from Thad Matta before he inevitably trims his rotation. Don’t under-estimate the loss of ultimate glue guy David Lighty and sharpshooter Jon Diebler; this unit won’t be quite the powerhouse they were in 2010-11.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 6.5. The Buckeyes don’t leave home until mid-December, but they do welcome both Florida and Duke to Columbus in November. The contest vs. Florida is part of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon with the Gators aiming for an ounce of revenge after last season’s beatdown in Gainesville. Stalwart defender Aaron Craft will have his hands full with Florida sparkplug Erving Walker. Ohio State also drew top-ten Duke and their plethora of scoring wings in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Both squads are similar in that they lost key components from last year, but expectations remain sky high. December presents two road tests to Kansas and South Carolina. The Jayhawks don’t appear vintage this season, but it remains a formidable task for any visitor in Allen Fieldhouse.

Cupcake City: Rather than fill his buy games with mid-majors that won’t weigh down their RPI, Matta instead scheduled the dregs of Division I: Jackson State, North Florida, VMI, Texas Pan-American, South Carolina Upstate and Lamar. Even Horizon opponents like Wright State and Valparaiso aren’t expected to challenge Detroit or Butler in that league. Rather than risk a confidence-crippling upset against a plucky mid-major that’ll play into March, Ohio State instead opted for a sprinkling of glorified scrimmages around the likes of Florida, Duke and Kansas.

Toughest Early Season Test: Bill Self’s seven consecutive Big 12 titles is one of the most underappreciated streaks in sports. To claim the crown in a power conference for almost a decade in an era of one-and-done and constant turnover is a remarkable feat. Before we all quit on the Jayhawks because they lost the Morris twins and failed to secure a loaded freshman class, let’s keep Self ‘s streak in mind. This is a long and winding way of predicting that Ohio State will lose to Kansas in Lawrence when they meet on December 10. Whether it’s Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson, Elijah Johnson or a collective effort, it’s foolish to predict Kansas’ demise at this point until it actually happens.

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2011-12 RTC Class Schedule: Connecticut Huskies

Posted by zhayes9 on September 7th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Jim Calhoun’s life has taken a dramatic turn in just one year’s time.

Not too long ago, a shocking NIT flameout, a messy Nate Miles investigation, numerous health scares and a dip in recruiting rendered Connecticut’s 2009 Final Four berth a distant memory. Questions began to circulate whether Calhoun was still fit for the grueling task of coaching an elite Division I basketball program. A preseason top-5 UConn outfit that lacked any semblance of cohesion or chemistry finished 18-16 in 2010 and the immediate future for the Hall-of-Fame headman appeared insecure.

Then Kemba Walker decided to embrace the role of team leader and captain, bringing his game to the next level and a unit of mostly inexperienced underclassmen on an unforgettable ride. UConn shockingly dispatched of Michigan State and Kentucky to win in Maui, finished the non-conference slate undefeated, took their lumps in a rigorous Big East, won five games in five nights to take the conference crown in New York, then for the hell of it won six more for Calhoun’s third national title.

It gets better. Calhoun never saw eye to eye with Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway. The longtime A.D. promptly resigned this summer. And just for good measure, local blue-chip prospect Andre Drummond shocked the college basketball world and not only committed to UConn rather than go to prep school and enter in the 2012 NBA Draft, but he re-classified in order to play this upcoming season. The kicker: a recruit that grew up in a Tennessee group home, Michael Bradley, is apparently fine with giving up his scholarship.

This confluence of events has delivered Calhoun more than enough ammunition to give coaching another go-round in 2011-12. Whether this magic can continue into November remains up in the air.

Jeremy Lamb will be on quite a few preseason All-American lists

Team Outlook: The sudden addition of Drummond sends Connecticut from Big East title contender to odds-on favorite. Drummond has a pro frame, possesses tremendous athleticism and is a dynamite scoring compliment to Alex Oriakhi in the low post.  Let’s not skim over the departure of Kemba Walker. Not only was the All-American their floor general/leader, but he took (and made) every big shot. Jeremy Lamb will be expected to fill Walker’s role as dependable shot-maker while Walker understudy Shabazz Napier claims full-time point guard duties. Roscoe Smith rounds out the starting five as a capable role player offensively and a potential weapon defensively because of his length. Ryan Boatright, Napier’s backup at the point, and DeAndre Daniels,  a gifted scorer at the wing, are two freshmen expected to play integral roles in Calhoun’s rotation.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 3. The good news for UConn fans is that their schedule, combined with Carolina and Kentucky going head-to-head on December 3, opens up the realistic chance that the Huskies will be the last undefeated team standing heading into the teeth of Big East competition. The bad news is that, when it comes time to put a magnifying glass up to resumes and decipher who deserves #1 or #2 seeds on Selection Sunday, a lacking non-conference schedule won’t do them any favors. It’s not entirely their fault. It was impossible to foresee Bruce Pearl’s complete collapse at Tennessee. Arkansas was an unfortunate draw in the SEC/Big East Challenge. Other than Florida State and Harvard, their tournament in the Bahamas doesn’t contain much meat. It’s plausible Connecticut’s toughest opponent pre-Big East will be the Crimson, a motivated group of returnees looking to avenge last season’s heartbreak.

Cupcake City: Contrary to last year’s loaded Maui bracket, it’ll be a soft landing for Calhoun in 2011. Cupcakes line the schedule in their first four home contests against Columbia, Wagner, Maine and Coppin State before battling UNC-Asheville and likely UCF in the Bahamas. A visit from both Harvard and Fairfield are sneaky difficult, but there’s little doubt Connecticut will be favored in every one of their games outside of the Big East.

Toughest Early Season Test: Normally a visit to Tennessee would be the standout candidate, but newly minted head coach Cuonzo Martin has a major rebuilding project staring him in the face with Scotty Hopson, Tobias Harris, Brian Williams and Melvin Goins all moving on. Unless moribund Utah or Massachusetts pulls off a major upset, Connecticut will face either Florida State or Harvard in the final. Both pose their own distinct challenges. Florida State boasts the athletes and length to give UConn fits early enough in the season where on-court chemistry post-Kemba isn’t settled. Harvard returns every significant player from a team that lost one game to a team that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament: Yale by one point.

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2011-12 RTC Class Schedule: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by zhayes9 on September 6th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

The most anticipated season in North Carolina basketball history is approaching.

More than those Frank McGuire-coached teams in the 1950s. More than any of the best from the storied Dean Smith era, including the unforgettable Jordan/Perkins/Worthy triumvirate. Even more than when Roy Williams couldn’t resist the call of his alma mater or when Tyler Hansbrough returned for another go-round with Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington.

When two lottery picks join forces with two other first-round picks, a foundation of complementary pieces and a typically loaded recruiting class, unadulterated glee in Chapel Hill seems rather appropriate.

Navigating an unimpressive ACC this season, a far cry from its heyday as the premiere basketball league in America, renders the trek significantly less treacherous. Although he couldn’t have foreseen Harrison Barnes remaining in college more than one season, Williams knew 2011-12 would be special and challenged his team adequately in the non-conference.

John Henson’s game has grown dramatically the last two seasons

Team Outlook: Last November, it was arch-rival Duke topping the preseason rankings with Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith as seniors. One year later, the Tar Heels take their turn. Carolina’s journey from NIT to Elite Eight was aided markedly by the freshman duo of Barnes/Kendall Marshall plus the development and maturation of John Henson and Tyler Zeller.  Carolina returns their entire starting lineup of Marshall, Strickland, Barnes, Zeller and Henson, adds two potential impact rookies in James McAdoo and P.J. Hairston and features enviable depth off the bench. The lesson here: rebuilding projects at renowned power programs don’t last very long. A third national title for Williams next April doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 8. Only five non-conference contests away from Chapel Hill, but three of the five will pose sizable challenges for the Tar Heels. The season-opening bash on an aircraft carrier in San Diego pits Carolina against a Michigan State team that, contrary to last season, we may be seriously underestimating. Tom Izzo will rely heavily on the versatile Draymond Green, rising star Keith Appling and Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood. A Las Vegas tournament is also on the docket with a likely win vs. South Carolina preceding a possible final against UNLV in a true road game. The Rebels are pegged by most as the second-best team in the Mountain West under new coach Dave Rice behind their guard duo of Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall. UNC draws rebuilding Texas and Jordan Taylor’s Wisconsin Badgers to the Dean Dome. We’d be surprised if Carolina stumbled once at home this season. Of course, the December 3 showdown with Kentucky in Lexington is the highlight of Carolina’s schedule and could be the most anticipated non-conference game in recent memory.

Cupcake City: Don’t think Williams skipped out on the buy games just because of their lofty status. Carolina faces off with UNC-Asheville, Mississippi Valley State and Tennessee State prior to their Las Vegas trip and are granted a long reprieve after the Wisconsin/Kentucky back-to-back with nine consecutive home games December 6 to January 10. Texas and two ACC duels with Boston College and Miami are mixed in with a number of cupcakes, including Nicholls State, Elon and Monmouth.

Toughest Early Season Test: Prepare yourself, North Carolina vs. Kentucky is going to receive an unprecedented amount of hype for a game in early December. That was made possible when Terrence Jones and Harrison Barnes simultaneously stunned the college basketball world and returned for their sophomore seasons. Other important cogs fell into place, and the recruiting-savvy coaching staffs securing loaded freshmen classes only exacerbated the potential. We just don’t envision a trap for either school that would deny fans a #1 vs. #2 showdown at Rupp Arena. As many as six first-round picks will lace up the sneakers in this one.

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