2013-14 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on April 1st, 2014

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what is going to occur during the season. There will always be players who will fail to live up to expectations and there will always be under the radar types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our group of eight RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams back in November, nobody could have guessed that only six of the 15 names on that list would live up to the hype: Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Louisville’s Russ Smith, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Duke’s Jabari Parker, Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier, and Kentucky’s Julius Randle. The only two players that were projected to to be a first team All-America and finished there were McDermott and Smith (actually, we recognized at the time that a 33 percent accuracy rate was the AP’s historical norm, so we did a little better than that). The nine players we selected as preseason All-Americans who did not make our team — Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Michigan State’s Gary Harris, Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Michigan’s Mitch McGary (spent much of the year injured), Arizona State’s Jahii Carson, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, Syracuse’s C.J. Fair, Michigan State’s Adreian Payne, and Virginia’s Joe Harris — all had exceptional seasons, but they were surpassed in achievements by the names that rose to the top of our list. Here are the 2013-14 RTC All-America Teams.

Note on methodology: voters took postseason performance to date into consideration. Players earned three points for a First Team vote, two points for a Second Team vote, and one point for a Third Team vote. McDermott and Napier were the only two consensus First Team All-America selections. Coming tomorrowThe RTC Coach of the Year.

First Team All-America

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  • Doug McDermott, Senior, Creighton (consensus) (26.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 52.6% FG, 44.9% 3FG). McDermott was the most prolific  and talented offensive player in the country in a season that wrapped up his marvelous collegiate career. The senior led the country in scoring and his brilliant play was the biggest reason why Creighton finished the season with a sterling 27-8 record. The brilliance of “Dougie McBuckets” saw him reach several amazing career milestones this year. His career-high 45 points in March 8’s Senior Night victory over Providence put him over the 3,000-point barrier, and he wound up finishing with 3,150 points, good for fifth on the all-time scoring list. There have been few players like Doug McDermott in college basketball history, and there will be few like him in the future. He was an amazingly unique talent that we were all privileged to watch play ball for the last four years.
  • Shabazz Napier, Senior, Connecticut (consensus) (18.1 PPG, 4.9 APG, 5.9 RPG, 1.7 SPG). You can make an argument that no player has meant more to his team this season than Napier has meant to Connecticut. The Huskies improbably took home the East Region title and are headed to the Final Four, thanks in large part to the heroics of Napier. After a sensational regular season where the guard took home the AAC Player of the Year award, he has only elevated his play in the postseason. In the Huskies’ four NCAA Tournament victories, Napier is averaging 23.3 points per contest and has displayed his flare for the dramatic by hitting several important shots when his team needed them most. Connecticut won a national title in 2011 mostly due to the brilliance of then-point guard and NPOY Kemba Walker. If the Huskies are able to replicate that feat this season, it will be mostly due to the brilliance of Napier.
  • Jabari Parker, Freshman, Duke (22) (19.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 47.3% FG). In a season when many freshmen around the country received a great deal of preseason hype, no other freshman lived up to the lofty expectations quite like Parker. The USBWA National Freshman of the Year became the first Duke freshman to earn consensus first-team All-America honors with selections to the AP and Wooden All-America teams. It is widely expected that Parker will enter the 2014 NBA Draft after just one season in Durham, and even though his Duke career did not include an NCAA Tournament victory, Parker’s terrific season will not soon be forgotten.
  • Russ Smith, Senior, Louisville (22) (18.2 PPG, 4.6 APG, 2.0 SPG, 46.8% FG). “Russdiculous” entered the season with high expectations and he more than lived up them by leading Louisville to another terrific campaign. After an excellent junior season, Smith only improved as a senior. Known for erratic decision-making much earlier in his career, the talented guard reinvented himself during his senior season. Smith improved his field goal percentage from by five percentage points and his three-point percentage from by six points. That brilliance led a spot as Louisville’s first consensus All-American since Clifford Rozier in the 1993-94 season. 
  • Sean Kilpatrick, Senior, Cincinnati (19) (20.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 42.3% FG, 84.5% FT). Kilpatrick finished his outstanding collegiate career with legendary Cincinnati status, as he joined NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson as the only two Bearcats to top 2,000 career points. Along with joining Robertson in the Cincinnati record books, Kilpatrick also became the program’s all-time leader in games (140) and career minutes played (4,315). The elevation in Kilpatrick’s play as a senior also meant great things for an overachieving Cincinnati squad that was the co-AAC champion and was ranked #15 in the final AP poll.

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Rushed Reactions: N.C. State 66, #11 Syracuse 63

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 14th, 2014

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ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2014 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

Three Key Takeaways in the Wolfpack’s upset win.

N.C. State's Star T.J. Warren Celebrates Upset Over Syracuse. (Photo: Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)

N.C. State’s Star T.J. Warren Celebrates Upset Over Syracuse.
(Photo: Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)

  1. N.C. State finally got that elusive quality win its been hunting all season. After last second losses to Syracuse and North Carolina in the ACC regular season, the third time was the charm for the Wolfpack. While the win may not put N.C. State into the NCAA field just yet, at least it keeps that dream alive. And with many other bubble teams falling all over the country, the Pack may be in great shape for a bid if they can at least get to the championship game. This game was following the same script as those previous two heartbreaking losses, with the Wolfpack building a nice second half lead only to see the opponent come back and take the game down to the wire. But this time, N.C. State rewrote the disappointing ending. It was instead the Wolfpack that made more winning plays down the stretch. Two of the biggest were on the defensive end, as N.C. State drew offensive fouls on C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis in the last three minutes of play.
  2. Syracuse is in a serious shooting slump. The main reason that the Orange lost four of six games after starting the year with 25 straight wins was that they shot under 40 percent from the field in all six games. After closing the regular season with a solid performance (48%) at Florida State, Jim Boeheim was hoping that was the start of a turnaround. Now, that game just looks like an outlier. Against an N.C. State defense that ranked 11th in the ACC in opponents’ shooting (42.2%), Syracuse struggled all night, shooting just 32.7 percent for the game. The last scattered Syracuse possession was a perfect example as the Orange missed six straight shots, many badly. In particular, its stars are no longer making shots like they did earlier in the season. C. J. Fair was a woeful 3-of-16 in the game and guards Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis combined to go 7-of-24 themselves. Perhaps the major minutes those players logged all year have finally gotten into their legs. And with this year’s Syracuse team not nearly as stingy defensively as last season’s Final Four squad, things are not looking good for a deep NCAA Tournament run for the Orange this year. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Regular Season Crown at Stake: Previewing Syracuse vs. Virginia

Posted by Lathan Wells & Chris Kehoe on February 28th, 2014

Saturday’s game between Virginia and Syracuse will crown this season’s ACC champion, but it’s also a showcase of two teams coming in with very different levels of confidence. While Virginia is riding a hot 12-game winning streak, Syracuse is entering the contest having lost two of its last three games. Both of these teams play notoriously slow, but the likelihood of this one becoming a runaway in either team’s favor is also highly unlikely. While Syracuse is quite literally one of the slowest teams in the nation, Virginia is only one spot ahead of the Orange, ranking 344th in adjusted tempo out of 351 total teams.

A rejuvenated Tyler Ennis is paramount to Syracuse securing a regular-season title in its first ACC season (apsports.com)

A rejuvenated Tyler Ennis is paramount to Syracuse securing a regular season title in its first ACC season. (apsports.com)

Over the last few weeks, Syracuse has eked by in numerous close victories with controversial finishes before managing to drop its first two games of the season in both embarrassing (Boston College) and enraging (Duke) fashion. Tyler Ennis’ seeming invincibility has worn off somewhat as he has cooled off offensively, showing a human side to his unshakably calm demeanor. Part of Syracuse’s weakened state can be attributed to one of head coach Jim Boeheim’s major criticisms: an unbalanced and back-loaded schedule that has Syracuse finishing its inaugural ACC season with four of its last five games on the road. Syracuse’s play of late even has some ESPN analysts like John Gasaway indirectly stating that it may be the first #1 seed to ever fall to a #16, showing just how far the national perception of the Orange has fallen over the recent bumpy stretch.

On the flip side of the coin, Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad is riding an epic wave of momentum that is well on its way to carrying his team to its first sole claim on the ACC regular season title in over three decades. Virginia has won a school record 17 straight games at home and is sitting in sole possession of first place in the ACC at 15-1. Since a brutal 35-point road loss to Tennessee before the new year, Virginia appears the part of a conference champion, winning numerous low-scoring affairs with stifling defense (no ACC opponent has score more than 70 points). Unlike Syracuse’s schedule, the Cavaliers have the boon of three of their last four ACC contests occurring at home in John Paul Jones Arena. While Virginia may not have a single elite scoring option like the Orange’s C.J. Fair, leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon is more than capable of taking over a game and the Cavaliers boast three players who average between 7.9 and 11.5 PPG. So while Syracuse comes into Charlottesville with their pride wounded after a scorching start, Virginia’s confidence has never been higher in its attempt to prevent a newcomer from claiming the conference title in its first season.

ACC Microwriters Chris Kehoe and Lathan Wells will focus in on the key questions surrounding this marquee ACC match-up, tipping off at 4:00 PM ET on Saturday (ESPN).

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Who Won the Week? Two Undefeated Teams, But Certainly Not The Third…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on February 7th, 2014

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Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: Wichita State

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early was outstanding this week for the Shockers. (AP)

The nation’s winningest team cleared its toughest conference hurdle Wednesday night in defeating Indiana State in Terre Haute, led by senior forward Cleanthony Early’s 19 points. From here on, the Shockers have better than 50 percent odds to go undefeated in the regular season, according to KenPom.com, and about 35 percent odds to make it to the NCAA Tournament unblemished. Wichita State’s reign over the Missouri Valley has been so strong this year that only two teams – Missouri State and Indiana State – have even finished within 10 points of them. Tomorrow’s game at Northern Iowa is the toughest remaining tilt for the Shockers, which also sandblasted Evansville 81-67 last Saturday.

(Related winners: Gregg Marshall, whose stock will never be higher, even if he never wants to leave; the Missouri Valley, which is certain to get some more NCAA Tournament win shares, even without Creighton in the conference. Related losers: Indiana State, the MVC”s second-best team, which probably has to win Arch Madness to make the NCAAs; Evansville, perpetually anonymous in purple.)

LOSER: Arizona

Of the triumvirate of teams that came into last weekend undefeated, only two came out unscathed. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they weren’t one of them. Their road trip to California, the toughest game left on their schedule at that point, turned out to be undone by a last-second jumper from Golden Bears’ guard Justin Cobbs over center Kaleb Tarczewski, giving Cal a 60-58 win. That news was bad enough, but worse was what came after — that sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, a starter, had broken his foot during the game and would be out for the season. In Thursday’s 67-65 win over Oregon, Arizona looked disjointed offensively and saw star freshman Aaron Gordon injure his leg in a game in which he made just 2-of-11 free throws. The Wildcats actually trailed the disintegrating Ducks with just 90 seconds left before point guard T.J. McConnell made a three-pointer that gave them the lead for good. Sean Miller only played seven players, even accounting for Gordon’s injury, and its lack of depth could be problematic should more injuries arise or should fouls accumulate. It’s a shame to see this happen because a full-strength Arizona team looked to be head and shoulders above all but a few others around the country.

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Virginia’s Resurgence Directly Tied to Success of Joe Harris

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 16th, 2014

There is no question that Virginia entered the season fully expecting to be able to count on senior Joe Harris to elevate the team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012 and make a serious run at the upper echelon of the ACC. Harris was considered one of the surest bets not only on the Cavaliers roster, but in the entire new-look ACC. He made the all-conference first team last season and received preseason votes for ACC player of the year.  After a non-conference slate from which the Cavaliers emerged an uninspiring 9-4 with zero standout wins and whiffs in statement games versus VCU, Wisconsin and Tennessee along with a bad loss to Wisconsin Green-Bay, fans and analysts alike surmised the Cavs were having disappointing seasons from just about everyone on the roster. But Harris was actually the main culprit, with his scoring way down and, perhaps most puzzlingly, carrying an average of only seven field-goal attempts per contest.

Joe Harris vs Duke

UVA’s long-term fortunes are directly tied to Joe Harris (credit: associatedpress)

Now, four games into the ACC slate, it appears that Harris has finally found his scoring stroke at just the right time. Virginia, needing a strong conference record to offset its non-conference woes, has begun 3-1 in the ACC with only a tough loss to Duke at Cameron Indoor blemishing their conference record. It’s no coincidence that much of what glaringly ailed Tony Bennett’s team early on has seemingly been remedied. The defense is still suffocating; the frontcourt is back to providing secondary scoring options and commanding the glass; and the team is getting better shots as a result of improved ball movement and patience.

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Tyler Ennis, the Underappreciated Phenom

Posted by Chris Kehoe on January 2nd, 2014

What’s that, you say — a heady, patient, point guard on an undefeated team, sporting a 4.67:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, isn’t getting enough attention? Someone who happens to be a freshman valiantly filling the shoes of a lottery pick who has already notched an NBA triple-double? By now, you have probably figured out that we’re referring to none other than Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis, an extremely talented and poised freshman playing arguably the most demanding position in all of basketball. The precocious rookie is averaging 11.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game for a second-ranked Orange team that looks as dangerous as ever and ready for another deep run in March. He contributes 32 minutes per game on a team that lacks any real alternative at the position, but as Ennis has shown thus far, Jim Boeheim doesn’t need much of a substitute as the Canadian rarely gets in foul trouble or gets fatigued playing at the top of the vaunted 2-3 zone.

Ennis splits an Indiana double team (Rich Barnes/Getty)

Ennis splits an Indiana double team. (Rich Barnes/Getty)

Ennis has proved himself a potent long-range shooter, launching three-pointers at a 40 percent clip, and is no slouch defensively either, averaging 2.7 steals per contest  (10th in the nation). Speaking of national statistical rankings, Ennis also comes in second nationally behind ACC counterpart and Pittsburgh point guard James Robinson in assist-to-turnover ratio, a strong indicator of how effectively he runs the team. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg said it best: “He’s just a savvy point guard who changes pace masterfully, uses ball screens to his advantage, and has a knack for knowing when the Orange need a bucket.” Read the rest of this entry »

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The Emergence of NC State’s T.J. Warren

Posted by Chris Kehoe on December 20th, 2013

N.C. State sophomore forward T.J. Warren had an extremely successful freshman season on a Wolfpack squad that failed to live up to outsized expectations last year. After the departure of stars C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell and Lorenzo Brown, the reins were handed to Mr. Warren. Surrounded by a supporting cast of talented freshmen and an undersized yet feisty former Oak Hill point guard (Tyler Lewis), N.C. State was largely expected to coast to a lower/middle-of-the-pack finish in the ACC. However, behind freshman guard Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber’s unexpected scoring output, the emergences of forward/center Jordan Vandenberg and freshman big man Lennard Freeman, and Warren’s ascendence, the outlook is bright for this Wolfpack team.

T.J. Warren skies for an emphatic two points (photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

T.J. Warren skies for an emphatic two points
(photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Last season Warren was known for his other-worldly efficiency, pouring in 12.1 PPG on a remarkable 62.2% shooting and cementing his status as a player to keep an eye on. A popular misconception after the departures of the talented triumvirate was that N.C. State and Warren would struggle because of a lack of offensive options and overall experience and cohesion. That has not been the case, as N.C. State has cruised to a 8-2 record, beating Florida Gulf Coast, Northwestern, and most recently, Tennessee in solid wins. While their schedule has not been particularly strong, they look to be a force to be reckoned with in a weaker-than-expected ACC. They are now circled on teams’ calendars as a dangerous foe in ACC play, because when you have an elite scorer such as Warren to defend, there is no telling what kind of damage he can do.

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge Presents Giant Opportunity For Michigan

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 2nd, 2013

What to Make of Michigan Heading to Duke in the Headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Nobody ever said life after Trey Burke was going to be easy. Despite entering the season with both a top 10 ranking and preseason All-American (again) to lead the way, John Beilein had to know that this group of Wolverines would be a work in progress. Gone was not only the transcendent Burke, but also backcourt mate Tim Hardaway, Jr., a highly accomplished player in his own right. Also of concern: The fact that this year’s preseason All-American, Mitch McGary, entered the season on the mend. The bruising sophomore is recovering from a back injury, and even with a (relatively) healthy back a season ago, he had averaged only 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game as he got acclimated to college basketball. Was he really ready to deliver All-American type production? Every team entered this season with question marks, but Michigan faced as many as any of their preseason top-10 cohabitants.

Michigan And Mitch McGary Will Attempt To Reassert Themselves At Cameron Indoor On Tuesday Night

Michigan And Mitch McGary Will Attempt To Reassert Themselves At Cameron Indoor On Tuesday Night

The Wolverines are now seven games into the season, and the top-10 ranking is gone. The same cannot be said for those pesky preseason questions. Michigan is 5-2 on the year, with an overtime victory over Florida State ranking as its lone victory of consequence (seriously, the average Pomeroy rating for the other four Wolverine conquests is 297). The back injury ultimately caused McGary to miss just two games, but his production since returning has hardly been like that of an All-American: 8.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.0 BPG in 25 minutes per game. I’m not in the habit of judging a guy off of five post-injury games, but the jury remains out on whether McGary can live up to those expansive preseason expectations.

Nor has a verdict been offered on the Michigan point guard situation. Nobody expected Derrick Walton to become Trey Burke, but the freshman has averaged nearly as many turnovers (2.4 per game) as assists (3.3 per game), while also ceding crunch time minutes to backup Spike Albrecht. In the two Michigan losses (to Iowa State and Charlotte), Walton has averaged just 19 minutes a game. Clearly John Beilein is not ready to fully hand over the reins to the talented youngster, but like McGary, there’s still plenty of time for Walton to grow into his expected role.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: California in the Maui Invitational

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 25th, 2013

With Feast Week tipping off over the weekend, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Pac-12 teams involved in neutral site events this week.

What They’ve Done So Far: There hasn’t been a whole lot of flash on the California schedule so far, with Denver and Oakland (no, not the Broncos and the Raiders) headlining the early slate. As a result, the Bears are out to a 4-0 record, with only Oakland having thrown a challenge their way. But for a team breaking in five freshmen and replacing Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe, that recipe has been just fine. The mostly highly regarded freshman of the bunch, Jabari Bird, is the primary guy replacing Crabbe and he’s been great out of the gate, averaging 13.5 points per game while stroking 50 percent of his shots from three. Meanwhile, versatile sophomore wing Tyrone Wallace looks like he’s working on a breakout season, having made great strides with a previously broken jump shot. Finally, the veteran frontcourt tandem of Richard Solomon and David Kravish has also combined to account for about 20 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks per night, and it is all held together by senior point guard Justin Cobbs, who hasn’t yet had to take on a big scoring burden but is capable if needed.

Jabari Bird Has Adapted To The College Game Quickly (GoldenBearSports.com)

Jabari Bird Has Adapted To The College Game Quickly (GoldenBearSports.com)

First Round Preview: Arkansas is first up for the Golden Bears to tip off the Maui Invitational this morning and this game will be a clash of tempos. While Cal is more than willing to slow things down and grind it out in the half-court with set plays and lock-down defense, the Razorbacks want to get up and down the court with alacrity. Junior wing Alandise Harris leads the way for the Hawgs, averaging 18 points per game, earned mostly on the attack, whether making tough shots from penetration or getting to the line to take advantage of his excellent free throw shooting. Bird and/or Wallace will be primarily responsible for checking Harris and they’ll need to make sure to keep out of foul trouble, as he is one of the best players in the nation at drawing fouls. Luckily, Cal teams under Mike Montgomery are not known to foul recklessly. The one spot where the Bears can take advantage of Arkansas is on the offensive glass, where Solomon and Kravish have done a good job this season; Arkansas, meanwhile, is not great at cleaning their defensive glass. Still, while the Bears are the slightly more talented team here, if they’re not on top of things early on the island, this is a game they could lose.

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2013-14 RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2013

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With the season tipping off Friday night, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason First, Second, and Third All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion. Our crack panel of eight national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this, perhaps unsurprisingly, is where we ended up.

First Team All-America

team1Andrew Wiggins, Kansas (unanimous) – Wiggins begins his career in Lawrence as one of the more ballyhooed freshmen in recent memory. The 6’8″ swingman, who was unanimously considered the top player in the Class of 2013, committed to Kansas in April following a recruiting process that was primarily kept close to the vest. While some of the hype surrounding the dynamic freshman may be a bit overblown, it is impossible to deny Wiggins’ credentials, as he was named 2013 Naismith Prep Player of the Year, 2013 Gatorade National Player of the Year, and Mr. Basketball USA. Wiggins has already acknowledged that he would like to be a one-and-done and enter the 2014 NBA Draft, so it is logical to see why expectations are so high in Lawrence this season.

Factoid: It is not exactly a surprise that Wiggins is a top-flight athlete when you consider the fact that his father, Mitchell Wiggins, had a lengthy professional basketball career and his mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, won two silver medals for Canada as a sprinter in the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.

Doug McDermott, Creighton (unanimous) – McDermott’s ability to score from anywhere on the court makes him one of the most feared offensive players in the country. It is rare for a two-time First Team All-American to return to school, but that is the case with McDermott, who spurned the NBA to return for his senior season in Omaha. With Creighton making the big move from the Missouri Valley to the Big East this season, the Bluejays are going to be counting on him to fill the stat line each night out – and McDermott is good enough to come through for them.

Factoid: Due to Creighton guard Grant Gibbs receiving a rare sixth-year of eligibility from the NCAA (and thus, needing a scholarship), McDermott will be an extremely talented walk-on for the 2013-14 season.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State – The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year shocked the basketball world when he announced in mid-April that he would return to Stillwater for his sophomore season. The Flower Mound, Texas, native is widely considered the best returning player in all of college basketball. Smart brings a little bit of everything to the floor. His 6’4″ frame is elite for the point guard position and he uses that size as well as any perimeter player in the country. The leadership and intangibles that Smart provides are also second to none. After Oklahoma State finished third in the Big 12 during Smart’s freshman season, it is projected to contend with perennial powerhouse Kansas for the conference crown this season.

Factoid: Making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010, Oklahoma State’s stay in the 2013 event was a short one. The Cowboys, a five-seed, were upset in the Round of 64 by 12-seed Oregon. This loss affected Smart’s decision to return to school, as the setback helped him realize he was not ready to be one-and-done in a Cowboy uniform.

Russ Smith, Louisville – Smith returns to Louisville for his senior season looking to lead the Cardinals to a repeat as national champions. “Russdiculous” is coming off a season that saw him average 18.7 points per game and take home the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional. While Smith gets a majority of his attention for his performance on the offensive end of the court, he is also a defensive stalwart who keys the relentless full court pressure of the Cardinals. Even though Smith certainly figures to be Louisville’s most explosive player this season, you better believe he will still at times do some things on the court that will drive Rick Pitino crazy.

Factoid: Smith spent his fall interning with WHAS-TV in Louisville, working local high school football games on some Friday nights.

Julius Randle, Kentucky – Kentucky coach John Calipari brought in one of the best recruiting hauls in history for this season and the star of the class is the ultra-athletic Randle. The Plano, Texas, native arrived in Lexington as the second-best prospect in the Class of 2013 – only behind Andrew Wiggins – and early returns on Randle as a Wildcat forward have been overwhelmingly positive. Randle’s talent level is so elite that ESPN‘s Jeff Goodman declared in late September that he would take Randle over Wiggins with the first pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Factoid: Randle missed three months of his senior season at Prestonwood Christian due to a fractured foot, but he was able to return in time to lead the school to a Texas state championship.

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ACC Team Preview: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Chris Kehoe on October 23rd, 2013

The Syracuse Orange had a great season last year, largely overachieving on their way to a 30-10 record and a Final Four appearance. After struggling to an 11-7 conference record in the swan song for the mighty Big East Conference, they rode a wave of momentum behind their tenacious zone defense all the way to Atlanta where they fell to Michigan. Much of their overall success was due to senior leaders Brandon Triche and sixth man extraordinaire James Southerland. Losing these two seniors and play-making savant Michael Carter-Williams to the NBA Draft lottery removed much of the nucleus head coach Jim Boeheim relied upon in the 2012-13 season. However, Syracuse does return arguably the team’s most valuable and versatile player in C.J. Fair, who led the team in points and rebounds per game from the forward slot. Much of the team’s success this year will rely on Syracuse’s patented zone defense and Fair’s ability to shoulder an even larger offensive role without Southerland, Carter-Williams and Triche around to help shoulder the burden. There certainly will be a nice “shock factor” present in unleashing their vaunted defense against the rest of the new ACC this season that will have Boeheim cushioning his already exorbitant wins total.

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Returnees

  • Senior forward C.J. Fair: Widely considered one of the best players in the ACC. Should be in a compelling year-long battle for ACC Player of the Year with Virginia’s Joe Harris and Duke’s Jabari Parker. A second team all-Big East performer last season, Fair is a versatile and athletic leader for this Syracuse team. Big things are expected from the Baltimore native in a transition year for Syracuse athletics to the ACC.
  • Sophomore forward Jerami Grant: The 6’8” DeMatha alumnus is pegged by many analysts to have a breakout season. While he did not have a successful freshman season, he is a future project based on his rangy and lanky body type and the athleticism he has exhibited. He certainly has successful basketball genes in his family, seeing as his brother Jerian is a senior point guard star at rival Notre Dame and his father Harvey had a successful NBA career with multiple teams.
  • Redshirt sophomore guard Trevor Cooney: This redshirt two-guard sure has no trouble scoring the basketball. He is a prolific shooter but needs to improve other facets of his game to secure his spot in Syracuse’s starting lineup. The Delaware native has two years of practice with Boeheim under his belt which should help his knowledge of the 2-3 zone and offensive schemes.

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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 5th, 2013

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It would have been easy to lose faith in Syracuse near the end of the regular season. The Orange sputtered to a 5-7 finish over their last 12 games, which in itself was enough point-blank evidence to jump off the bandwagon. The swirling rumors of NCAA impropriety and looming specter of coach Jim Boeheim’s retirement added to the general malaise that fell over this program as it hobbled into the final Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. What’s happened since? This In-Depth Final Four preview, the last installment of our four-part series, should give you a pretty good idea. The Orange are to be feared, and this, in long form, is my explanation why.

(Revisit previous entries Wichita State, Michigan and Louisville)

Smart and controlled point guard play from MCW has pushed Syracuse into the Final Four (Getty Images).

Smart and controlled point guard play from MCW has pushed Syracuse into the Final Four (Getty Images).

Pre-Tournament Capsule. Non-conference schedules in Syracuse, New York, are unfailingly bland subjects. The Orange hardly ever leave the state of New York, and when they do – as was the case this season when they opened the season by traveling across the country to play San Diego State on top of the USS Midway aircraft carrier, as well as an SEC-Big East challenge game at Arkansas – it’s extremely rare and/or typically not of their own volition. The Orange “ventured” to Madison Square Garden three days before Christmas and took their only loss before Big East play, a four-point defeat to Temple. They buzzed through the early part of conference play looking like one of the four or five best teams in the country, with wins at Louisville and home Notre Dame sprinkled therein. Things got ugly in the portion of the hoops calendar we like to call the “dog days” – the mid-to-late February stretch of conference play where teams start running on fumes at the tail end of a long league schedule. The Orange dropped four of five to close the regular season, then got off the mat and played their way into the Big East Tournament championship game, an emotional conference sendoff that ended with fellow ACC-bound member Louisville tearing the lid off MSG in a pristine second-half effort. Syracuse may have fallen in the finals, but that ugly stretch at the end of conference play was officially a figment of the past. The Orange were ready for the Big Dance.

How They Got Here. There was nothing circuitous or fluky about Syracuse’s path to Atlanta. They drubbed Montana in a game many thought could give the Orange real problems (HA!), pulled away from Cal in a hard-fought second half, put the nation’s then-No. 1 efficiency offense (Indiana) in the 2-3 blender and dropped Big East foe Marquette in the Elite Eight. Looking back, astonishing as it may seem, that round-of-32 bout with Cal was, I’d argue, the most trying game Syracuse has played in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Final Four History. Only one of Syracuse’s Final Four appearances came before Boeheim inherited the head coaching job in 1976, and Boeheim was very much a part of that one too, only in a different capacity. When Syracuse reached the national semifinals in 1975, Boeheim had been an assistant for six seasons. Little did he know the head coaching job would open up one year later, and the rest – the four Final Four appearances, the 900 wins and counting, the national championship – became part of the legendary coaching monolith we know invariably associate with Syracuse basketball. Boeheim’s last Final Four trip with the Orange was led by one of the most dominant freshman stars in the modern hoops era and ended with a title. That would be Carmelo Anthony circa 2003.

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