Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 15th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Utah.

What Went Right

For the first time since Larry Krystkowiak took over a shell of a program from Jim Boylen, Utah basketball fans had a team that they knew could be competitive night in and night out. Of the Utes’ 12 losses this season, seven were by a single possession. The talent level is clearly back to the point where the Utes can be competitive in the Pac-12, defense has become a priority, and the future appears bright.

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak's Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak’s Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

What Went Wrong

So, those seven losses by a single possession? Well, that’s not good, is it? Time and time again, the Utes had chances to win close games down the stretch, and time and time again they wound up with losses in those games. Their record in games decided by a single possession was 0-7. They lost all three of their overtime games. And only six times all season did they win games decided by fewer than 10 points. In other words, unless the Utes were blowing out their opponent, odds were good that they were losing. Chalk some of that up to bad luck, another portion to a young team still learning to win games, and more to some coaching breakdowns. But the good news is that if next year’s Utes can find some ways to win those close games, they should be looking at a very good record.

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Kevin Ollie at Home in a League of Journeymen

Posted by Will Tucker (@blrdswag) on April 15th, 2014

Kevin Ollie has come a long way since September 2012, when he was reluctantly handed the reins to a UConn program coming off a 14-loss season, a depleted roster, and an impending postseason ban. Facing high-stakes circumstances, athletic director Warde Manuel’s confidence in Jim Calhoun’s hand-picked successor was so tentative that he handed Ollie the title of interim head coach and gave him a seven-month contract worth about $385,000. Just a year-and-a-half later, he’s bested Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and John Calipari, taken a scarred program to heights many doubted it could ever again reach without Calhoun, set himself up as the hottest young coaching prospect since Brad Stevens, and made Drake sad. He’s making appearances at the New York Stock Exchange and getting blogged about at Forbes and Vanity Fair. A few short years after concluding his itinerant pro career, the 41-year-old Ollie might even be well-positioned to return the NBA as a coach, if he so desires. And that once-skeptical AD is prepared to do everything within his budget to convince Ollie otherwise.

The Huskies' fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm (Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY)

The Huskies’ fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)

As Jeff Eisenberg recently pointed out, UConn’s unlikely, scrappy resurgence reflects Ollie’s own journeyman ethos. Thrust into such inauspicious circumstances, some coaches would have resigned themselves to fate, thrown their hands in the air and begun assigning blame, starting with the athletic department that seemed more interested in wrangling autonomy from Calhoun than sustaining the program he built. But Ollie really was – and here I’ll apologize for belaboring the narrative – the perfect man to overcome the odds. A trusted insider whose own sweat equity had helped build the program, he quickly got his players to buy in. Over two turbulent seasons, they responded with the dogged persistence of an undrafted point guard who carved a 13-year NBA career out of annual contracts. So whatever opportunities the offseason holds for Ollie, it’s in the best interest of college basketball fans that he sticks around. His presence at the top of the profession is a breath of fresh air in a guild whose upper echelon is overwhelmingly white, exceptionally well-paid, and sometimes out of touch. It’s even better for AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco, whose conference desperately needs an elite coach in its ranks after Louisville’s Rick Pitino departs this off-season.

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Bryce Dejean-Jones Becomes Fred Hoiberg’s Next Reclamation Project

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 14th, 2014

It’s been a pretty good weekend for Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg. On Friday, Iowa State announced that it would give him a $600,000 annual raise on his current contract which runs through 2023, and on Sunday afternoon, former UNLV guard Bryce Dejean-Jones announced that he will join the Cyclones. Dejean-Jones is set to graduate from UNLV this summer, which would make him immediately eligible to suit up for Iowa State. Like DeAndre Kane before him, Dejean-Jones arrives in Ames with a history of incidents involving his attitude getting the best of him, so Hoiberg will have another opportunity to mold an embattled player into a key contributor.

Will Bryce Dejean-Jones find the same kind of success DeAndre Kane found at Iowa State?

Will Bryce Dejean-Jones find the same kind of success DeAndre Kane found at Iowa State?

Dejean-Jones led the Runnin’ Rebels in scoring last season (13.6 PPG), but his year ended on a sour note. He was suspended for the final game of UNLV’s regular season against Wyoming for a violation of team rules, and reportedly yelled at teammates following the team’s season-ending loss against San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference Tournament on March 14. We don’t know specifically what that outburst involved, but whatever it contained was enough for UNLV head coach Dave Rice to decide that a parting of ways was the best course of action for both parties.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Washington State

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 14th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Washington State.

What Went Wrong

Lots. The Cougars finished the season 140th in the nation in defensive efficiency, and they were far better on the defensive end of the court than they were on the offensive end. If you just look through the Washington State KenPom page and sort through all the stats, the only place where you see any type of green (which means good) is in its defensive rebounding numbers. Everywhere else it is red. Shooting the ball; keeping the other team from shooting ball well; turning it over; getting to the foul line; not fouling defensively; shooting the three; shooting the two; shooting the one; blocking shots; creating steals. In none of these areas (and more) were the Cougars even an average basketball team. Thus, it should be no surprise that they lost 17 of their final 21 games and Ken Bone is now the former head coach at Washington State.

It Was A Rough Season For Ken Bone And The Cougars, And The Washington State Program Will Now Move On Without Him (AP)

It Was A Rough Season For Ken Bone And The Cougars, And The Washington State Program Will Now Move On Without Him (AP)

What Went Right

Not much. Above we mentioned that the one area where Washington State was very good was defensive rebounding, in large part due to the efforts of senior center D.J. Shelton (third in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage). So there was that. Beyond that, the only other bright spot is something we’ll get to in our next bullet point.

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2013-14 ACC Season Review – Part III

Posted by Brad Jenkins on April 11th, 2014

Now that the 2013-14 season is all over, let’s take a look back at how each ACC team performed. We will do so in three parts, dividing the league into groups of five teams based on ACC Tournament seeding. For each school, we’ll compare its actual season results with preseason expectations, and point out the surprises in each case — both the pleasant and unpleasant. Finally, we will take a quick peak at the short- and long-term prospects for each program. In Part III today, we’ll look at the top five finishers in the conference. The top four teams were expected to be the class of the league, and they were, even though the final order was somewhat surprising. The big disappointment came in the postseason, when only ACC champion Virginia made it to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.

1) Virginia (30-7, 16-2 ACC) - NCAA (L: Regional Semi-Finals)

Virginia claimed the ACC crown. (credit: Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

Tony Bennett led Virginia to its second ever ACC Championship. (credit: Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

Led by ACC Coach of the Year Tony Bennett, the Cavaliers had one of the best seasons in school history. They won the ACC regular season race for the first time since 1981, captured their second ACC Tournament title (the other was in 1976), and tied the 1982 team for the highest finish (#3) in the season’s final AP poll. The team was not overly impressive early, as they entered conference play with a 9-4 record and coming off a 35 point pounding at the hands of Tennessee. But at that point, Virginia regrouped and only lost three more times – on the last possession at Duke; in overtime at Maryland; and finally in the Sweet Sixteen to Michigan State in one of the most hard-fought games of the entire Tournament.

  • They were who we thought they were. We knew that defense would be the calling card for this Virginia team and it was in a big way. The Cavaliers only allowed 91 points per 100 possessions in ACC play, which was a remarkable eight points better than anyone else.
  • We didn’t see this coming. The main questions for this team at the beginning of the year concerned the backcourt. Could they find an effective point guard among the young candidates on the roster? And how would Malcolm Brogdon play after missing the previous season due to injury? Freshman point guard London Perrantes played well above expectations, running the team with the savvy of a veteran and making the ACC’s all-Freshman Team. Brogdon was incredibly consistent and his all-around play resulted in a spot on the all-ACC first team, as voted on by the league’s coaches.
  • What the future holds. Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell will be missed for their leadership and production. ACC Sixth Man of the Year Justin Anderson and effective reserve Anthony Gill should move right into the starting lineup, though, so the keys for next season are to build depth and hope to duplicate the great chemistry and unselfish play of this year’s squad. The program looks to be in great shape for the near future, as Bennett has proven that his style can work at the highest level.

2) Syracuse (28-6, 14-4 ACC) - NCAA (L: 3rd Round)

This year was a tale of two seasons for the Orange. Syracuse started the season 25-0 and were ranked #1 in the country for three weeks, winning so many games on the last possession that even Jim Boeheim admitted they were lucky. Their luck ran out in game #26 when lowly Boston College came to the Carrier Dome and knocked off the Orange in one of the shockers of the year. Including that loss, Syracuse would close the year by only winning three of its last nine games. Injuries exposed the team’s lack of depth, and the Orange went into a prolonged shooting slump, probably due to wearing down.

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Looking Back at Kentucky’s Remarkable Run

Posted by David Changas on April 11th, 2014

On March 1, Kentucky‘s season hit its lowest point when the Wildcats lost to SEC bottom-feeder South Carolina, 72-67. Talk of a 40-0 season was a distant memory, and an early exit from the NCAA Tournament seemed likely. After that loss, Kentucky went on to lose twice to SEC champion Florida, but it was during the second of those losses – a one-point SEC Tournament Championship Game thriller that the Wildcats had a chance to win – that gave coach John Calipari’s team confidence that all was not lost. Kentucky received a #8 seed from the selection committee, and the path ahead of it would consist of games with the region’s top seed and the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament with an undefeated record in 23 years, Wichita State, as well as a possible rematch with arch-nemesis Louisville. The regional final projected as a game against the team that lost to Louisville in last year’s national championship game, Michigan, or SEC rival Tennessee. The Wildcats were able to beat Kansas State with relative ease in the opening round, and then proceed to win thrillers against the Shockers, Cardinals, and Wolverines to advance to their third Final Four in Calipari’s five years at the helm of the program.

Kentucky Will Play For The Program's Ninth National Title On Monday Night

Kentucky Celebrated Its Way to the National Title Game

At the outset of the season, Kentucky was the nation’s consensus No. 1 team, and there was some serious talk in the Bluegrass State that the Wildcats could reach 40-0. That dream was dashed with an early-season loss to Michigan State at the Champions Classic, and then Kentucky followed that with pre-conference defeats to Baylor and North Carolina. If those losses didn’t cause significant concern, the Wildcats’ play in the lowly SEC did. They were swept by the Gators and by Arkansas, and narrowly avoided a sweep by LSU. By the time the SEC Tournament arrived, many wondered whether it was too late for the club to figure things out and salvage their season. After dominant wins over LSU and Georgia, the Wildcats appeared headed for another blowout loss in the title game to Florida. They trailed the Gators by 16 early in the second half, but eventually cut the lead to one point with the ball before James Young slipped and lost control, costing the Wildcats a chance to win. While Kentucky wasn’t able to complete the comeback, that game was the impetus for the turnaround. Willie Cauley-Stein called the performance “a big confidence-booster” afterward, and said that the Wildcats were a “new team” coming out of Atlanta. While winning the daunting Midwest region appeared to be a near-impossible task for a team that entered the NCAA Tournament with 10 losses, the 78-76 second-round win over Wichita State in what many considered the best game of the Big Dance served notice that the Kentucky team many had expected had finally arrived.

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Breaking Down the Top 10 SEC Likely Returnees

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 10th, 2014

No player on the lengthy 2013-14 all-SEC first team will be back next season (barring a couple of unlikely reversals), leaving the conference leaderboards completely up for grabs. The top returnees feature a heavy number of sophomores, and could be shaken up depending on some of the announcements out of Lexington over the next few days. Here are the top 10 SEC players to watch for in 2014-15.

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson's 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson’s 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

  1. Bobby Portis, Arkansas. Portis’ offensive efficiency stood out most during his freshman year, but he also was in the SEC’s top 10 in rebounds and blocks per game. He also has experience as a marked man as he became the Razorbacks’ primary option as the season wore on. Portis should flourish in his sophomore campaign, especially if Mike Anderson relents and plays him more than 30 minutes per game.
  2. Jordan Mickey, LSU. Mickey had a better statistical season than Portis, but he did so with Johnny O’Bryant commanding the bulk of attention. O’Bryant is now gone, and Mickey will become the Tigers’ top option in the low post. If his jumper continues to improve (39.3% on two-point jump shots) he’ll be a load on offense. Mickey also had the sixth most blocks in the country as a freshman.
  3. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky. Harrison and his brother are expected to return to Lexington, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they both left school either. If they do stick around, they’ll look to turn solid play in the NCAA Tournament into breakout sophomore seasons. Andrew gets the nod here merely because his position is more important, but he’ll need to improve on the 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio he posted as a freshman. He could become a Tyreke Evans-type lead guard who looks to score first and creates offensive rebounding opportunities for his frontcourt with penetration and shots at the rim. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Arizona State

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 10th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Up first, Arizona State.

What Went Right

Jermaine Marshall and Shaquielle McKissic were largely excellent in their only seasons in Tempe (McKissic will be petitioning the NCAA for an additional season of eligibility). Jordan Bachynski capped his stellar Sun Devils career with his best season and an all-time conference record for career blocked shots. And Herb Sendek and the Sun Devils earned their first NCAA Tournament appearance since James Harden was on campus.

Arizona State

Arizona State Went Dancing, But It Ended With a Heartbreaking Putback by Texas

What Went Wrong

Still, despite that major accomplishment, you’ve got to feel that this team left money on the table at the end of the year. First, just the way they lost their NCAA Tournament game, falling to Texas on a buzzer-beater when the Longhorns’ last two buckets came on offensive rebounds after airballs – ouch! And Jahii Carson, the team’s best player and arguably a more talented player than what he showed, struggled through a rough season, with questions about his game confirmed and others about his leadership raised anew. Sendek did a solid job with this team, a squad that had some obvious holes in it. But still, this feels like a team that had an NCAA Tournament win (or two) in them but failed to get the job done.

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Your Way-Too-Early Big Ten 2014-15 Power Rankings

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 10th, 2014

The Big Ten was once again a juggernaut during the 2013-14 campaign, as the league was arguably the best conference in America, or at worst second behind the Big 12. There were six teams invited to the NCAA Tournament, three of which made the Elite Eight, and the league was also the home of the NIT Champion. One thing that cannot be disputed is that the bottom half of the league’s teams were much better. This meant that some games that were considered big upsets early became much less surprising as the season went on. With this year in the books, the league is set to add newcomers Maryland and Rutgers to the mix for 2014-15. With 14 teams and a plethora of players slated to return, it’s time to construct some kind of pecking order as we head into the long offseason.

Look for Nigel Hayes to take on a much bigger role for Wisconsin next season. (AP)

Look for Nigel Hayes to take on a much bigger role for Wisconsin next season. (AP)

  1. Wisconsin: The Badgers are only projected to lose starting guard Ben Brust right now. Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky could both leave school, but neither is anything close to a certain first round pick. If they return, the Badgers would have four upperclassmen starters in the lineup, plus sophomores Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes ready to take on bigger roles. This team could be scary.
  2. Michigan: While the Wisconsin situation looks much more settled, Michigan is an absolute wild card at this point. The Wolverines could very well lose any combination of Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. Stauskas is the only player who is thought to be a certain first-rounder, however, and a team that brings back Robinson, McGary, Caris LeVert, and Derrick Walton Jr. could easily build off of their Elite Eight appearance and battle Wisconsin for the league title.
  3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have the best recruiting class in the Big Ten coming in, with D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate on the majority of the top 100 lists. Combine this infusion of young talent with a solid group of upperclassmen and graduate transfer Anthony Lee coming in from Temple, and Ohio State should be better next year than it was in 2013-14. Read the rest of this entry »
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Another Year, Another Doughnut: What’s Wrong With the Big 12?

Posted by Kory Carpenter on April 10th, 2014

The Big 12 has a problem. It spent most of the regular season perceived as the best conference in the country but went another year without a national champion. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1984, only two Big 12 teams have won the national title. Both teams were Kansas (1988 and 2008). That represents fewer titles than any other Big Five conference and just one more than UNLV. In the last decade, in fact, Kansas is the only school to make a Final Four appearance as a member of the Big 12 (West Virginia made the Final Four in 2010 while still in the Big East). Since then, the ACC has sent five schools to the Final Four, the SEC seven, and the Big Ten eight. Even the one year-old American Athletic Conference has had a national champion, thanks to Connecticut. This is partly a Kansas problem, as the Jayhawks have missed good opportunities for Final Fours at least four times in the last 10 years. But without the Jayhawks the rest of the Big 12 would resemble Conference USA. It has been full of teams that were good but never considered great, and there is no better example of that than this season.

For the eighth time in the last ten years, the Big 12 failed to send a team to the Final Four.

For the eighth time in the last ten years, the Big 12 failed to send a team to the Final Four.

Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and Texas spent time together in the Top 25 this season, but only the Jayhawks were considered legitimate threats to go deep in March. Iowa State, for example, cruised to a 13-0 start with a few good wins over Michigan and Iowa, so when they lost to Oklahoma, it meant the Sooners must be good. Or so we thought. And after Kansas State — which lost to Northern Colorado and Charlotte in November — beat a couple of ranked teams like Oklahoma State and Texas, people thought the conference was full of really good teams beating up on one another. But after another disappointing March, it’s time to realize that the Big 12 has one great program and a bunch of other ones capable of playing well for a few weeks at a time. Michigan State has Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. North Carolina has Duke and Syracuse. Kentucky has Florida. Kansas has a handful of teams capable of upsetting them in their building and disappearing a week later. This is most evident in the fact that Kansas has won 10 straight regular season titles. Bill Self is a future Hall of Fame coach and is on one of the best regular season runs we have seen in decades, but would he have 10 straight titles in any other major conference? Not a chance. And with Self’s prowess on the recruiting trail lately, it’s hard to see any Big 12 team ending the Jayhawks’ run of conference titles.

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2013-14 ACC Season Review – Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins on April 10th, 2014

Now that the 2013-14 season is all over, let’s take a look back at how each ACC team performed. We will do so in three parts, dividing the league into groups of five teams based on ACC Tournament seeding. For each school, we’ll compare its actual season results with preseason expectations, and point out the surprises in each case — both the pleasant and unpleasant. Finally, we will take a quick peak at the short- and long-term prospects for each program. In Part II today, we’ll look at the middle-of-the-pack, teams that finished #6 through #10 in the league standings. This includes the team that overachieved the most compared to expectations, and one that was disappointing in its last season in the league.

6) Clemson (23-13, 10-8 ACC) - NIT (L: Semi-Finals)

Clemson is Off to Surprising ACC Start Led by K.J. McDaniels. (Photo: Ken Ruinard)

If Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels returns next year, the Tigers may contend for an upper level ACC finish.
(Photo: Ken Ruinard)

Clemson came in to this season with low expectations, picked to finish #14 in the ACC media’s preseason poll. But led by all-ACC first teamer K.J. McDaniels, the Tigers’ came within a whisker of making the NCAA Tournament. Only an extremely weak non-conference schedule tarnished their resume. Of course when Brad Brownell set that schedule up, he was probably more concerned with building a young team’s confidence heading into a stronger ACC with the additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame.

  • They were who we thought they were. During his four years at Clemson, Brownell’s squads have been much better defensively than offensively. This year was a perfect example with the Tigers finishing fifth in the league in defensive efficiency and #13 in offensive efficiency.
  • We didn’t see this coming. In his junior year, McDaniels exploded into a star on both ends of the court. He accomplished the rare feat of dramatically improving his offensive efficiency (ORtg – 111.4) while also increasing his usage (28.6%). As a sophomore, those numbers were 102.4 and 23.0, respectively. In addition, McDaniels was voted the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
  • What the future holds. If McDaniels returns for his senior year, the Tigers will return basically intact and be expected to compete for a high finish in the ACC. If McDaniels enters the NBA Draft instead, Clemson will have even a harder time scoring than they usually do. For long-term success, Clemson must recruit more talented offensive players. It will also be interesting to see if Brownell will look to toughen up that non-conference slate next year. Perhaps McDaniels’ decision will impact that too.

7-Tied) N.C. State (22-14, 9-9 ACC) - NCAA (L: 2nd Round)

As often happens with Mark Gottfried teams, N.C. State played better than expected after losing five of their top six players from the prior year. Of course, that one returnee, T.J. Warren, turned out to be pretty darn good. Actually, Warren had a tremendous season and carried the Wolfpack all the way to a surprising NCAA Tournament bid. After a First Four win over Xavier in Dayton, N.C. State was looking good against #5 seed St. Louis before a monumental collapse brought the Wolfpack’s season to a screeching halt.

  • They were who we thought they were. With a team as young as this year’s Wolfpack, ups and downs were going to be expected. That was reflected in some extreme performances. N.C. State lost six home games during the season, but posted four ACC road wins and also beat a good Tennessee squad in Knoxville. Sometimes, the inconsistent play showed up within the span of a single game, such as blown late leads at Syracuse, versus North Carolina at home, and of course against St. Louis. Read the rest of this entry »
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Joel Embiid Headed to the NBA: What Does Kansas Do Next?

Posted by Taylor Erickson on April 9th, 2014

Joel Embiid officially declared his intention to enter the 2014 NBA Draft in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. Embiid is projected as a top three pick in the upcoming draft despite missing seven games at the end of this season because of a stress fracture in his lower back. Given how rare it is for big men to come along with a demonstrated ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor, it should come as no shock that the seven-footer from Cameroon has decided to leave Kansas after just one abbreviated season.

Kansas big man Joel Embiid will enter the 2014 NBA Draft.

Kansas big man Joel Embiid will enter the 2014 NBA Draft.

The most optimistic Kansas fans, however, were holding out hope that Embiid’s comments to ESPN earlier this year would convince him to stick around in Lawrence for another season. In that January article, Embiid talked about studying other talented big men and cited how many years they stayed in school as a contributing factor to become the best at his position one day. But make no mistake about it, the game isn’t the same as when Olajuwon, Duncan, and Shaq were dominating college campuses. Players now more than ever are drafted on potential, and in Embiid’s case, he has it in spades. In the end, this announcement comes down to making a sensible business decision, and capitalizing on the opportunity to make life-changing money — something that could be significantly hindered if he were to return to campus and experience another year of back problems.

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