It was always going to be a rough introduction into the Big Ten for Rutgers, given that last year the Scarlet Knights weren’t competitive in a mediocre American Athletic Conference. If they are going to turn things around, the effort will need to be led by one of their senior leaders, Kadeem Jack. So head coach Eddie Jordan must be more than a little concerned that last year’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer has been unable to practice due to a wrist injury. Jack is expected to be healthy by the first game of the season against George Washington, but Jordan needs to hope that’s the case as his team is going to need all the wins it can get for a shot at a postseason tournament.
In East Lansing, Michigan State is also dealing with the injury bug. Tom Izzo’s team will lose freshman Javon Bess for at least a month as he will have surgery on his injured foot. Though not a heralded recruit, he seemed to have already earned some respect from his fellow teammates and coach. Izzo called him a “diamond in the rough” while Denzel Valentine said his loss is “gonna be big [to us].” His injury chips at the Spartans’ depth, something the Spartans would like to have as they make their way through another tough non-conference schedule with opponents like Duke, Georgia Tech, Kansas and Notre Dame slated.
The season hasn’t even started, but Richard Pitino is already dealing with some off-the-court issues, as Minnesotadismissed junior Zach Lofton on Wednesday with no specific explanation given for his cause for dismissal. The 6’4″ wing had transferred to Minnesota from Illinois State, where he averaged 11.3 PPG and 3.0 RPG last season. His dismissal has no effect with respect to this season, as Lofton would have had to redshirt this year anyway. But it’s certainly not ideal and leaves a hole in Pitino’s lineup for the 2015-16 season that he will need to fill. Not a great start for the Golden Gophers.
Earlier in the week, SBNation released its Top 100 players list. Yesterday, CBSSports.comdid likewise. One big difference between the two lists was with the ranking of Sam Dekker, who came in at #5 on the latter as opposed to #33 on the former. Another huge difference in ranking was Ohio State’s freshman D’Angelo Russell, who was listed all the way up at #44 on CBS and was left off the list altogether on SBNation. They reached some consensus, however, with Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Michigan’s Caris Levert as top 10 players. Finally, while SBNation put 15 B1G players on its list, CBS was more bearish on the conference’s talent with only 11 players. These lists make for fun fodder, but honestly, it’ll be nice just to get through all this and focus on the games.
Lastly, Indiana’s Tom Crean is trying to get his Hoosiers squad ready for game shape this week. The Hoosierslost some key players from last year’s squad, such as Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Noah Vonleh, four-year contributor Will Sheehey, and a bunch of transfers. This lack in continuity is showing as the coach has to impress upon his squad to avoid “defensive fatigue”. While the Hoosiers lost a bunch of talent, they also brought in a quality freshmen class. Crean will need to get his star point guard, Yogi Ferrell, to whip those youngsters in shape if they’re to avoid another disappointing season.
This will be the first Ohio State basketball team without Aaron Craft on the roster since 2010, despite the fact that it seems like he was the Buckeyes’ point guard since the turn of the century. He and Lenzelle Smith Jr. started on teams that reached the Final Four and Elite Eight in consecutive seasons and manned the backcourt in Columbus for the last three years. Combine this with the loss of leading scorer LaQuinton Ross and the Buckeyes have numerous question marks heading into this year’s campaign. Freshmen like D’angelo Russell and JaSean Tate will certainly help offensively and returnee Marc Loving showed signs last year that he could become a double-figure scorer at some point in his Buckeyes’ career. But this team will only go as far as its senior class — Shannon Scott, Amir Williams, Sam Thompson, Trey McDonald and Anthony Lee — will take them. After a disappointing 25-10 mark as a result of a questionable offense (10th in the B1Gin offensive efficiency), the seniors need to prove that they can continue to defend at an elite level without the services of the best on-ball defender in the country, and that they can actually find better ways to put some points on the board.
Shannon Scott will take over the primary ball-handling duties for Ohio State this season. (Andy Manis, AP)
At this point it’s probably safe to say that Williams will never be a dominant force on the offensive end. He is, however, useful as a rim-protector, finishing fourth in the league last season in blocks. McDonald made strides last season as a backup big man, showing that even though he too lacks offensive polish, he can contribute on the defensive end and on the glass. Both players foul far too often (a combined 11.1 fouls per 40 minutes), but if the pair can stay on the court long enough to combine for about 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game, then they’ll have done their job as a tandem. Thompson saw his numbers drop across the board last season, and much like with Williams, it’s tempting to just assume that he is who he is at this point in his career. Even if he does nothing to improve his offensive numbers, Thompson can improve his team if he becomes a lockdown perimeter defender (which he has the athleticism to do) and if he increases his rebounding output. At 6’7″, only two conference players at the same size or taller (Will Sheehey and Joey King) had a lower defensive rebounding rate than Thompson last season. He did shoot 40.4 percent from deep as a sophomore, but he slipped back down to 35.5 percent last year. If he can knock down about 38 percent of his attempts from three and add to his rebounding totals, he should be on the floor for Thad Matta at crunch time.
Preseason lists for this award and watch lists for that honor are being released in earnest. When it comes to a very specific list, plenty of Big Ten players are honored on the All-Indiana College Basketball Team, consisting of players from the Hoosier State who compete at the collegiate level. The first team includes Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, and perhaps a debatable player to some in Purdue’s AJ Hammons. The second team includes Michigan’s Zak Irvin, while three Honorable Mentions in Indiana’s James Blackmon, Jr. and Purdue’s Basil Smotherman and Raphael Davis. The team exhibits all the Indiana talent that is scattered across Big Ten rosters beyond just those playing for the in-state Hoosiers and Boilermakers.
Minnesota is a team with some intrigue surrounding it entering this season. The Golden Gophers return four starters from its NIT Championship squad and it has raised some hopes and created high expectations for this year’s team. Some of these projections make sense and seem legitimate, such as Andre Hollins making an All-Big Ten team; but others, like Elliot Eliason leading the conference in rebounds and blocks, are a little more unrealistic. The biggest question to answer for Minnesota fans is whether the Gophers can make the NCAA Tournament and push forward to the second weekend of action. To accomplish such a feat, the team will need Hollins to really improve with the losses of Malik Smith and Austin Hollins. He has the skill set and talent to do so, but it will take a very strong campaign for Minnesota to rise to become a player at the top of the Big Ten and nationally.
With the loss of Noah Vonleh to the NBA, it is no secret that Indiana has some major question marks on its interior this year. One player hoping to provide an answer, however, is Devin Davis. He is one of the few interior players the Hoosiers have returning with experience. The best thing going for Davis may just be that he isn’t a dominant offensive force but he is a strong rebounder. With this year’s team likely looking to rely on its perimeter play to propel the offense, a solid defender underneath who can also attack the boards fits very well. While Davis will likely sit behind Hanner Mosquera-Perea in Tom Crean’s rotation, his style could be beneficial and result in a significant number of minutes throughout the season.
There are high hopes in Wisconsin this season, so to get ready for the year, why not start debating the past? What would you rate as the Badgers’ top play of the past 10 years? While this list goes with Bo Ryan making his first Final Four, personally the Ben Brust half-courter against Michigan would top my list. The real question for Wisconsin fans is whether this list will include more big plays from the upcoming season, and at what stakes? Certainly there could be a few leading to Big Ten and national accolades.
Ever wondered what was in Lebron James’ locker? How about what is in his locker at Ohio State? Yes, Lebron James has a locker inside Ohio State’s locker room, right next to Amir Williams. He doesn’t use it, given that he’s a 29-year old professional and all, but the Buckeyes display Nike gear with his name on it to help appeal to recruits when they come to visit Columbus. Not a bad ploy to use despite King James never playing at Ohio State, or college anywhere, for that matter.
Maryland received some bad news over the weekend when it found out that starting forward Evan Smotryczwill be out of action from four to six weeks with a broken foot. Smotrycz averaged 11.0 PPG and 6.0 RPG last season after transferring from Michigan. He was expected to be a starter for Mark Turgeon’s team again this season, but now he will probably miss key non-conference games against Arizona State and Virginia if he misses the full six weeks. This puts Jon Graham and possibly freshman Michal Cekovsky in line to pick up some of his minutes, at least in the short term.
Not many Big Ten teams had flashy Midnight Madness spectacles like the Kentuckys and UConns of the world, but a couple of schools held public intra-squad scrimmages over the weekend. Purdue was one such team that did so, and the Boilermakers put forth an intriguing lineup with giants AJ Hammons and freshman Isaac Haas on the floor together at the same time. While this unit would definitely lack in quickness if used during the regular season, it could potentially work in small stretches of game action. The major takeaway from this occurrence, however, is that should Hammons get into foul trouble during the season — a fair assumption, given that he had 12 games of four fouls or more last year — it looks as though Matt Painter won’t hesitate to spell him with the 7’2″ Haas.
Nebraska is in the midst of a highly successful football season right now, as the Huskers currently sit at 6-1 with running back Ameer Abdullah sneaking up the list of Heisman favorites. Despite all of that, Cornhuskers basketball is generating a good deal of its own hype heading into the season. Preseason first team All-Big Ten forward Terran Pettewaywas quoted at media day as saying “now everybody is going to be coming for us.” The Huskers surpassed expectations and then some last year, so it will be interesting to see what happens when they go from being the hunter to the hunted in 2014-15.
Another B1G senior who is under the microscope this season is Ohio State swingman Sam Thompson. Thompson has primarily been known for his highlight reel dunks and incredible athleticism during his previous three seasons in Columbus, but the Buckeyes need offense with their top three scorers no longer on the roster. Thompson’s shooting percentages dropped across the board from his sophomore to his junior season, and as a senior he needs to provide more than just athleticism on a team that ranked 128th in offensive efficiency last year. Fellow seniors Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald all will have different roles on the team from last season, and whether Thompson in particular can blossom into a more complete player may determine if the Buckeyes are capable of making another deep NCAA Tournament run for Thad Matta.
We’re about a month away from Big Ten basketball once again being a part of our lives. Things at the B1G microsite have been quiet since then, but that doesn’t mean nothing has happened since last April. So here’s a quick refresher to get everybody back up to speed since we last saw Wisconsin lose a heart-breaker to Kentucky in the Final Four. These 10 offseason storylines are in no particular order, but they will impact what will happen this season.
Frank Kaminsky came back to school for his senior season to lead a veteran Wisconsin team with a chance to go back to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker Returned to School: Postseason souting reports had Kaminsky going everywhere from #15 to #45 in the NBA Draft, even after a regular season where he led the Badgers in scoring and contributed NCAA Tournament averages of 16.4 PPG and 5.8 RPG on 55 percent shooting from the field. Dekker probably could have pursued NBA riches as well, but they both came back to Madison, making the Badgers — with two other returning starters in Josh Gasser and Traveon Jackson — an almost unanimous conference favorite.
Gary Harris and a Quartet of Michigan Players Didn’t: Things aren’t quite as rosy in East Lansing or Ann Arbor as far as preseason outlooks go. That’s because to the surprise of almost no one Gary Harris departed for the NBA after his sophomore year. This means that the Spartans will be without three of their four double-figure scorers from last season’s Elite Eight team. Meanwhile, Michigan is rebuilding things from scratch after the early NBA departures of sophomores Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary. None of the trio was ever a sure thing to jump to the pros, but things got especially wonky when it was learned that McGary would be suspended for the entire 2014-15 season due to a positive drug test during the NCAA tournament. Another Michigan gut punch was the transfer of Jon Horford to Florida, leaving the Wolverines with almost no experience on the front line heading into this season.
Sticking to the motif of figuring out the unknown in the month before regular season play begins, Maryland and Rutgers are set to make their basketball debuts in the Big Ten. Maryland comes off an offseason where it had multiple players leave the program, but one where the Terps also brought in an elite recruiting haul (top 10, according to some experts). One of their prized recruits is Slovakian Michal Cekovsky, a 7-footer who apparently wouldn’t crack the starting lineup right now because holdover Damonte Dodd has impressed Mark Turgeon in the preseason. With Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell now gone from the program, Dodd and Cekovsky need to become heavy post contributors as the Terrapins deal with the rigors of playing in the Big Ten for the first time.
Frank Kaminsky became a bit of an overnight celebrity last season for Wisconsin, leading the Badgers in scoring as they made their way to the Final Four. He’s on everyone’s radar now, but it’s not widely known how much of a role his father has played in his rapid development. Kaminsky’s father was a similarly skilled big man who simply blossomed too late to have much of a playing career in the 1970s and ’80s. He passed along a good deal of his skill set to his son, however, developing many of his perimeter skills before ever setting foot in the paint like a normal 7-footer.
Indiana picked up its second verbal commitment from the Class of 2015 on Tuesday, as late-rising wing Ogugua “OG” Anunoby pledged his services to the Hoosiers. Anunoby is only ranked as the 194th best player in his class, according to consensus rankings, but scouts see a good deal of upside from the wing from Jefferson City, Missouri. Tom Crean and his staff like to have their pick of long, rangy, wings on the bench, so this makes sense even if he’s seen as a bit of a project who primarily played in the post on his AAU and high school teams. Anunoby joins forces with power forward Juwan Morgan as the team’s two signees from thus far from next year’s class.
We will be breaking out our own preseason all-conference teams along with other assorted predictions in the upcoming weeks here on the Big Ten microsite. In the meantime, though — and in advance of Big TenMedia Day in Chicago on Thursday — BTN.com voted for its preseason all-conference teams on Tuesday. Michigan junior Caris LeVert, Nebraska junior Terran Petteway, and Wisconsin’s Kaminsky all were unanimous first-team selections. The Badgers’ junior Sam Dekker and Michigan State senior Branden Dawson rounded out the first team. Sorry, Northwestern and Rutgers fans, no players from either squad received any votes for any of the superlatives listed.
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions atThe Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the past two weeks four highly rated high school seniors from the Midwest have committed to their colleges. Despite calling the states of Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota home, however, only one of the four elite players decided to stay at home and play in the Big Ten. Could this exodus spell trouble down the road for one of the premier power conferences in the land?
Jay Wright Lands Top Point Guard in Class of 2015
The point guard position is fairly weak in the Class of 2015, but Villanova recently locked up five-star prospect Jalen Brunson, who is considered the No. 1 point guard in the class and No. 16 player overall. The lefty from the northern Chicago suburbs is the son of former Temple star and NBA journeyman Rick Brunson, and chose the Wildcats over the in-state Illini. The 6’2” point guard plays for one of the top high schools in Illinois as well as for the Mac Irvin Fire, which is known for suiting up Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, and Cliff Alexander in recent years. During the Nike EYBL, Brunson averaged 17.2 points and 6.9 assists per game.
Brunson plays the game with an old school flair. While definitely not an elite run-and-jump athlete, he is a master at running the offense, using the pick-and-roll, and knocking down jump shots from all parts of the floor. He uses his strong upper body to get by defenders and has NBA range on his three-point shot — which he displayed during the Nike Global Challenge in August. Off the pick-and-roll, Brunson can calmly knock down a three or get into the lane for a soft teardrop floater. He is a smart passer and gets the ball to teammates in a position to score and knows how to feed the post. This past winter, Brunson led his team to the Illinois state semifinals just one year after leading them to the state finals as a sophomore. In 2013 Brunson’s team came up short against a senior Jabari Parker’s Simeon powerhouse. Last year Brunson scored a remarkable 56 points in a losing effort against Jahlil Okafor’s state champs at Whitney Young. With his strong junior season, Brunson racked up a host of awards and also outplayed Kentucky’s freshman point guard Tyler Ulis in a notable head-to-head battle.
Villanova picked up a big commitment yesterday from five-star point guard Jalen Brunson bringing their 2015 class to three as he joins shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo and power forward Tim Delaney. As Jeff Borzello notes, Brunson’s recruitment was complex and probably wasn’t decided until after Brunson’s father, who was expected to be part of a package deal as an assistant coach, was arrested for alleged sexual assault. Brunson is from Illinois so this is another tough loss for Illini fans, but it still early in the recruiting season so there are still plenty of big names available.
Josh Pastner’s decision to hire Keelon Lawson is paying dividends more quickly than many anticipated. In addition to having a pipeline to Lawson’s kids, who are all highly recruited, Pastner will also get Dedric Lawson, who was the #7 overall recruit in the class of 2016, a year early as Dedric announced that he will reclassify to the class of 2015. By doing so, Dedric will join his brother K.J., ranked #38 in this class, at Memphis next year. The move should not come as too much of a surprise because Dedric’s birth date would make him eligible for the 2016 NBA Draft.
The season hasn’t even started yet, but we already have a pair of significant ACL injuries to report. The most significant one will probably be at Illinois where they appear to have lost Tracy Abrams for the season due to an ACL tear. Abrams, a senior who started all 35 games last season, averaged 10.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game last season. Fortunately for Illinois, they appear to have an adequate and seasoned replacement in Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks. Valparaiso might not be so lucky in terms of finding a replacement for starting point guard Lexus Williams who will also be undergoing surgery for a torn ACL. Williams averaged 6.5 points and 2.3 assists while starting 23 games as a freshman last season. Unlike Illinois, Valparaiso has not set a time table for Williams’ return after his surgery, which is expected to be performed today.
Outside of the Brunson and Lawson news there were also several other significant announcements. The first comes from four-star forward Mickey Mitchell, who recommitted to Ohio State. Mitchell had initially committed to Ohio State, but reopened his recruitment over the summer before finally deciding (we think) that Columbus was the right place for him. Four-star shooting guard Rex Pfluegercommitted to Notre Dame giving the Irish more options to help with scoring after Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton leave following this season. On the other end of the spectrum is Kedar Edwards, who reopened his recruitment after having previously committed to Florida State. Edwards was previously expected to play for the Seminoles this season, but for reasons that aren’t clear to us did not enroll. With Florida State picking up several top-tier recruits last week, perhaps Edwards realized that Tallahassee might not be the ideal location for him even for the upcoming years.
We are not sure how many of you have been watching the FIBA Basketball World Cup (judging by the online response we have seen not too many of you), but with the Finals coming up this weekend we were wondering how long the pro experiment will go on. We are young enough (well at least one of us) to not remember what it was like to have amateurs represent us at championship level events against professionals from other countries. It seems like every time there is another international competition the cries for going back to the old format grow louder. While at some level we enjoy seeing the US beat up on the rest of the world, which is something we would expect to do regularly if all of the best NBA players participated, we wonder if it wouldn’t be better just to have a group of players who were really committed to the program although with the brief stops in college for many top players that might not be realistic.
Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul, dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at email@example.com.
It’s that time again for college coaches to get out on the road. Over the next three weeks, coaches will criss-cross the country in search of elite high school recruits in the 2015, 2016, and 2017 classes. Last year college coaches had two weekends in April to view high school prospects in a competitive setting, while this year they only had one such week in April. With less time for viewing prospects, coaches will be in a virtual scramble mode throughout the month.
2. July Live Period #1 (July 9 – July 13)
The first live period kicked off on Wednesday. The main draw for the first viewing window is the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas. This Nike event features 80 of the top players in the country, including numerous five-star recruits. The who’s who of college coaches will all set foot in Vegas this week in addition to a plethora of NBA scouts. With so much talent there, some of the top recruits in the country will have a chance to try to establish themselves as the No. 1 recruit in the country. Players vying for this top spot include Ben Simmons (No. 2), Ivan Rabb (No. 3), Cheick Diallo (No. 5), and Malik Newman (No. 6).
Another top destination this week is Chicago for the Adidas Unrivaled camp which features a plethora of top players from the Adidas circuit. Several of the top players expected in Chicago include small forward Jaylen Brown (No. 4), point guard Dennis Smith (No. 6 – 2016), and forward Thon Maker (No. 4 – 2016). The camp consists of daily drill sessions with All-Star games occurring on Sunday.
Las Vegas and Chicago are the prime destinations for college coaches this week, but there are also a variety of other events throughout the country. The NY2LA Next Level Invitational takes place outside of Milwaukee and features some of the top talent in the Midwest as well. On the East Coast, the Reebok Breakout Classic is in action in Philadelphia and the Ty Lawson and Victor Oladipo Skills Academy are live in Maryland. With events taking place all over the country through the weekend, you can be sure that all of the head coaches and assistants will be earning their frequent flyer miles.
Just when you thought that the coaching carousel was done, Mike D’Antoni announced that he was resigning as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night. Although there are reports that the Lakers are interviewing Tom Thibodeau there are other reports that they have expressed interest in both John Calipari and Kevin Ollie. While we have not heard anything to suggest that either is actively looking for this job (Calipari actually tweeted that he was committed to his Kentucky team) it would not be shocking if a college coach (even a Hall of Famer) jumped at this job if offered. You may remember that Mike Krzyzewski seriously considered the Lakers offer back in 2004. Obviously, the Lakers were in much better position then than they are now, but it is still one of the most prominent positions in sports so it would be hard for some to turn down.
Naadir Tharpe may never have been the type of point guard that Kansas needed to put itself over the top and win a national title, but his departure for Kansas will leave a void in their backcourt that they will need to fill. Tharpe’s time in Lawrence was marked by inconsistent play and culminated in a very-NSFW tweet, but his stated reason for leaving is to be closer to his daughter who he says has been dealing with medical issues that requires her to have regular office visits. Tharpe will likely be headed to somewhere close to Massachusetts and his departure should mean that the starting job should be Frank Mason’s to lose and it does theoretically increase the likelihood that they land Devonte Graham.
The schedule for this year’s Big Ten- ACC Challenge was released yesterday. The marquee game is clearly Duke at Wisconsin in what should be a matchup of top five teams. Outside of that there are a handful of interesting games–Syracuse at Michigan, Ohio State at Louisville, and Iowa at North Carolina–but the overall quality might be down because the ACC is so much better at the top of the conference. This will probably correct itself in a few years and the Big Ten might even win the event this year because of their depth, but in our eyes the main appeal of this event in its ability to pair up top teams in non-conference matchups that we might otherwise not see.
Washington transfer Desmond Simmons announced that he was transferring to Saint Mary’s yesterday. Simmons averaged 5.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game this season after coming back from a knee injury, which forced him to miss the first ten games of this past season. Simmons is set to graduate so he will be able to play for Saint Mary’s next season, which will be a sort of homecoming for him as he grew up about 30 miles away from the school. Although Simmons headed to Washington after high school he reports having had a good relationship with Randy Bennett during his initial recruitment and actually had the Gaels in his final three coming out of high school.
Former North Carolina State guard Tyler Lewis has found a new home at Butler. The sophomore point guard averaged 4.4 points and 3.8 assists per game this past season and his move into the starting lineup late in the season was cited as one of the reasons that NC State made the NCAA Tournament. However, Lewis never lived up to his McDonald’s All-American pedigree and with Trevor Lacey coming in we are sure that Lewis could see the writing on the wall. At Butler, Lewis will have to help rebuild a program that fell off hard with Brad Stevens’ departure, which was compounded by a loss of a lot of talent. In the end, this will probably be a better situation for Lewis in terms of playing time and level of his opposition.
This season (25-10, 10-8): What would be a successful season for most programs was a relative disappointment for the Buckeyes. Ohio State did not capture a Big Ten regular season or tournament title for the first time since 2008-09, and similar to that season, they were also bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in their first game. The issue for the Buckeyes – which was a clear problem area in the preseason – was generating offense without Deshaun Thomas in the lineup. Thomas’ replacement, LaQuinton Ross, almost doubled his scoring average, but the Buckeyes failed to find reliable offensive firepower anywhere else. In the end, Aaron Craft and Ohio State’s excellent showing on defense wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s offensive woes.
Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don’t expect it to continue next season. (Getty)
Next season: The Buckeyes lose Craft, Amedeo Della Valle, Ross, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. They welcome in an elite recruiting class that includes D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate; and they also will get graduate transfer Anthony Lee from Temple next year. These additions along with several talented players already on their roster should have no one worrying about the state of the program going forward. This season was merely a hiccup in the Thad Matta era.
Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News writes that Russ Smithcemented his legacy as “a competitor and gentleman” with the gracious post-game remarks he delivered after Louisville’s disappointing 74-69 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. The senior guard’s wide-ranging comments, a transcript of which WDRB (Louisville) columnist Eric Crawford posted on Twitter, expressed gratitude to everyone from his teammates, coaches, managers, trainers, to UK’s program and current team, whom he described as “a great group of guys” and praised individually by name. He also credited Rick Pitino for shaping him into a man and apologized to Louisville fans, saying, “I wish I could have given them the win. I’m so sorry.” DeCourcy declares that Smith “leaves the game better than he found it because of how he performed and how he carried himself.”
With Connecticut playing for its first Final Four of the post-Jim Calhoun era, Tim Layden writes for Sports Illustrated that Kevin Ollie’s Huskies have clawed their way back from the “brink of irrelevance.” After “disappear[ing] into a grave partly of its own making and partly from the odd and capricious forces of modern college athletic,” writes Layden, “the Huskies are back because senior Shabazz Napier is a truly transcendent college guard, a tough and spectral offensive player descended directly from his former teammate, Kemba Walker.” Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel credits Napier’s coach with his team’s display of scrappy physicality and mental stamina against a much bigger Michigan State team on Sunday, describing the Kevin Ollie coaching experience as “an endless, relentless confidence-building exercise via motivational vignettes that couldn’t have found a more perfect home than a program that was under siege.”
A day after Louisville’s NCAA Tournament elimination, it was widely reported that junior guard Kevin Warewould transfer. Ware told ESPN that he’d like to be closer to his family home in Atlanta, and observers have pegged Auburn as a likely destination after the Tigers hired Bruce Pearl, who originally signed Ware at Tennessee. Still, the timing seems bizarre: Ware had tweeted last week that he was “never leaving this place,” and his stepfather told TheCourier-Journal that while he had been aware of Kevin’s plan to leave, “We just didn’t know he was going to tell someone today, the day after the team was eliminated.” While Ware was sidelined early in the season with injury, his experience and awareness of Rick Pitino’s defenses figured to give Ware the edge for a job in the Cardinals’ core rotation, if not their starting lineup.
In other AAC transfer news, Temple redshirt junior Anthony Lee has committed to play at Ohio State next season. Lee, a two-year starter for Fran Dunphy who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season, is set to graduate this spring, and wanted an opportunity to play in front of his relatives in the Midwest before the end of his college career. He will spend his last year of eligibility as a Buckeye while enrolled in a graduate program. As expected, USF freshman Josh Heath has also elected to transfer after his father’s firing earlier in the month.
With or without Lee, Temple is already eager to rebound after failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. “It’s motivation, that you were on the team that kind of let everybody down, didn’t live up to the expectations everybody’s used to seeing,” said junior guard Will Cummings, who described the grueling 9-22 campaign as the season of “almost.” Coach Fran Dunphy agreed with that assessment, adding, “We were almost there. We didn’t have a lot of margin for error. It’s that kind of thing where a season can change on a game, a game can change on a play.” Daily News writerMike Kern offers the example of Villanova’s swift turnaround as a blueprint for the Owls’ rebuilding effort, pointing out that over a span of three years, Jay Wright’s teams went from a program-record 19 losses to a program-record 28 regular-season wins.