Everyone remembers the champs. From the first NCAA champions in Oregon in 1939 to last year’s UConn team, hoopheads can tell you who won.
Problem is, some are more remembered than others in history. The 1951 Kentucky squad coined the Fabulous Five. The UCLA teams of the early 1970s were arguably the most dominant of their era. Right after, the 1976 Indiana team still remains the last undefeated champion in Division I college basketball.
In between the ones that are always brought up, there are the champs that don’t come to mind. At least not at first, anyway.
So who are they? TBBC looks into who are the most underrated champions all-time and why.
Record – 35-5
Coach – Jerry Tarkanian
What everyone remembers – That four of their starting five would eventually be drafted into the NBA. The team that was hounded by the NCAA arguably more than any program in college basketball history — with reason — had horses with the centerpiece of forward Larry Johnson (in his first season of Division I ball out of Odessa College), veteran point guard Greg Anthony, reliable forward Stacey Augmon, do-it-all utility man George Ackles and sharpshooter Anderson Hunt, who was the Big West Player of the Year as a sophomore, prior to Johnson’s arrival on campus.
The Runnin’ Rebels (you can’t leave off the ‘runnin”) demolished Duke in the largest margin of victory in NCAA Championship Game history, 103-73. Prompting the memorable “chair lean” from Tark.
What everyone doesn’t remember – This team played rough, but they also scored in bunches . The Runnin’ Rebels eclipsed 100 points in 15 games and scored 90-plus in another eight. And after dropping a 107-105 decision to LSU on Jan. 27, UNLV finished the season winning 22 of their final 23 games, with a 78-70 loss to UC-Santa Barbara on Feb. 25 the only blemish. They dominated opponents, winning by an average of 15 points per game.
Why are they underrated? – They’re a victim of their own doing. Despite the run UNLV had, everyone remembers the 1990-91 UNLV team that ran over everyone on their way to an undefeated regular season and a loss to the same Duke team in the national semifinals a year later. That dominant run — followed by an epic collapse – made that squad more memorable than the team that won it all.
Record - 31-1
Coach – Jim Herrick
What everyone remembers – The return to prominence for one of the more storied college basketball programs in history and brought the program its first NCAA title since the legendary coach John Wooden got his last in 1975.
Oh, and those two words that weren’t in Mizzou’s vocabulary: STOP BALL.
What everyone doesn’t remember - Despite the record, the Bruins had a rough start to conference play….they lost their Pac-10 opener to Oregon 82-72. They were arguably one of the dullest (I mean that with love) champions of the 90s, but one of the best single-game performances came at the hands of Ed O’Bannon with 30 points and 17 rebounds in the national title game, an 89-78 win over Arkansas.
And their schedule wasn’t easy, with seven regular season games against Top 25 teams and five of their six games in the NCAA Tournament as well — which is impressive in the 64-team field.
Why are they underrated? - Most teams that won it all in the 90s had some sort of future-pro star power. This one simply didn’t. Herrick took a cast of talented players, none of which would have much of a career in the NBA, to the title. Tyus Edney’s staggered four seasons in the league were the most of any Bruin from this team.
1973-74 North Carolina State
Record – 30-1
Coach – Norm Sloan
What everyone remembers - The Wolfpack will always be known as the team that interrupted The Dynasty of the John Wooden-coached UCLA teams of the late ’60s and early ’70s. They upset the Bruins 80-77 in their national semifinal contest and took out Marquette in the national title game. David Thompson was the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player along with earning his first of two national player of the year awards.
What everyone doesn’t remember- Before their Final Four win over UCLA, for the most part, N.C. State stayed at no. 2 in the nation behind UCLA. The Bruins made sure that they stayed there with an 84-66 beat down of the Wolfpack early in the season.
In fact, N.C. State was thisclose to not even making the NCAA Tournament, needing overtime to beat no.3 Maryland 103-100 in the finals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. The NCAA tournament only took 25 teams that season, and only began to include at-large teams in 1975.
Why are they underrated? – They get lost, like most teams of the 1960s and early 1970s, in the shuffle of the UCLA juggernaut. Thompson was far-and-away the star, but N.C. State also had 7-4 center Tom Burleson’s 18 points and 11.7 boards per game and 5-7 point guard Monte Towe was one of the best floor generals in the game at a time when assists weren’t seen in the same light as they are now.
Record - 35-4
Coach – Tubby Smith
What everyone remembers – Ask anybody who knows that team, they first thing you’ll normally hear out of their mouths is “it was Rick Pitino’s team.” Pitino left after reaching his second straight NCAA Final in 1997, taking the Boston Celtics head job, and as a result, Smith inherited a gold mine. Aside from that, the team was the third straight Wildcat squad to make it to the Final Four, cementing itself as the team of the 1990s (Getting thrashed by UNLV gives UK the edge here, Duke fans….)
….And so does this:
What everyone doesn’t remember – Despite the “Tubby just had to roll the balls out in practice” schtick, this was a team full of players that just knew their role. The Wildcats took an early-season loss to the team that beat them in the 1997 NCAA Final, Arizona. The roster also featured four first round picks in Jamaal Magloire, Nazr Muhammed, Scott Padgett and Michael Bradley (though Bradley would transfer to Villanova after the 1998-99 season.
The team was as balanced as any in its era, with Jeff Sheppard the team’s leading scorer at 13.7 points per game. In fact, only 4.9 points separated Sheppard and the team’s sixth-leading scorer, Heshimu Evans (8.8 ppg). Four players also averaged at least four rebound per game — the most was Mohammed’s 7.2.
Why are they underrated? - They were at the tail end of a dynasty that the original architect didn’t finish. Everyone remembers the 1996 team as one of the most dominant teams of the era, and that hurts when remembering the best teams of the 90s. But when looking at the numbers, the ’97-’98 team holds their own. The Wildcats won all three of their Southeastern Conference tournament games by double-digits, including a 99-74 drubbing of no. 16 Arkansas in the semifinals and an 86-56 pasting of no. 15 South Carolina in the finals. Impressive considering their strength of schedule was 9th in the nation.
Record – 25-7
What everyone remembers – Al McGuire in his awesome suits were retiring at the end of the Warriors’ (as they were known until 1994) season. Butch Lee hitting spinning lay-up after spinning lay-up. Lee, the Most Outstanding Player of that tournament, headlined that team, which played in one of the more amazing endings to a Final Four game in history against UNC-Charlotte (more on that below).
What everyone doesn’t remember – ….And it’s incredible really. Jerome Whitehead pulls in the three quarter-court pass from Lee with three seconds to go just inside the free throw line, turns, one dribble, and stuffs it home for a 51-49 win over the 49ers and a trip to the title game against North Carolina.
It also wasn’t an easy road for the Warriors, who were in their second Final Four in four years. They played no. 11 Cincinnati in the first round, Kansas State in the second, then no. 9 Wake Forest in the Elite Eight, UNC-Charlotte — no. 17 at the time — in the semifinals, then finished with no. 5 North Carolina in the title game.
Also, a soon-to-be prominent coach named Rick Majerus (R.I.P.) was an assistant on that team.
Why are they underrated? – It’s a team that, like N.C. State, gets lost in the shuffle of the 1970s. They weren’t necessarily spectacular, but they averaged 70 points per game without a three-point line and had two Top 20 NBA Draft picks in Lee and Bo Ellis on the roster. They also didn’t finish all that high in the polls, ranking between no. 6 and no. 15 for most of the year.
It was one of the more impressive stories in college basketball history, with the small, Jesuit school in Milwaukee sending their retiring coach out as the ultimate winner. It’s stuff that sports movies are made out of.
Got a better idea? Did we forget anyone? Hit us on Twitter at @David_Harten or @TBBChronicles or with an email at TBBChronicles@gmail.com.
So, you’ve done what only a few hoopheads do and entered a college basketball fantasy league….Nah, let’s go in another direction.
Every year, there are certain players that do more than most for their teams. Whether it’s scoring, giving quality minutes, assists, reducing turnovers, etc., these guys do it. So you can count on them doing it for whoever you cheer for.
Below at the most valuable players in the nation. Not necessarily the best overall, but the best in terms of delivering on a consistent basis.
Top 5 most valuable players in the nation
1.) Doug McDermott, F, Creighton – This one was incredibly easy. The guy can not only score, but score in different ways. He averaged 23.3 ppg last season and that came shooting 54.5 percent overall and 49 percent from the three point range. Tack on his 87.5 percent from the free throw line and he’s probably the nation’s easiest pick to pour in 20+ a night.
2.) Russ Smith, G, Louisville – This selection is more about how much Smith is going to have the ball this season than his production. Smith was 11th in KenPom in possession percentage (meaning he got the ball a lot per possession) getting the rock on 32 percent of the Cardinals’ possessions. Now as the total scoring threat — and Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva gone — this is his team and it’s his ball.
3.) Travis Bader, F, Oakland – This is a guy that no one talks about if you don’t know a ton about hoops. One of the nation’s top gunners from deep (139-360 from three this season), Bader averaged 22.1 ppg last season, quietly. Je also shot 88.5 percent from the free throw line and got there 202 times last season. Need points fast? It’s all Bader.
4.) Augustine Rubit, F, South Alabama – Rubit played in 30 games last season. He recorded a double-double in 16 of them. In his three seasons in Mobile, he’s clocked a double-double in two of them and missed out on three straight after averaging 9.2 boards as a sophomore. He stuffs the stat sheet.
5.) Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State – When a player passes up a sure-fire ticket to a Top 5 selection in the NBA Draft, there’s no way you can avoid getting him on this list. Smart does everything — 15.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists — and does it in the biggest games, averaging 21.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4 assists in seven regular season games against Top 25 opponents last season. He’s only no. 5 because unlike McDermott, Rubit and Bader, he has other NBA talent around him as well (Smith does as well).
1.) Kyle Vinales, G, Central Connecticut State – Vinales flirted with the idea of transferring to a place with a higher profile. After briefly committing to Toledo, Vinales came back and he’ll be better for it. Vinales was among the top players last season playing 38.2 minutes (almost a WHOLE game, people) while averaging 21.6 points. He carries the Blue Devils, who rely heavily on Vinales, and that shouldn’t change this season.
2.) Jerelle Benimon, F, Towson – Like Rubit, he’s another double-double machine. But he gets the sleeper tag because he’s only done it in one season. And did it big. The former Georgetown bench warmer averaged 17.1 points and 11.2 rebounds for the Tigers last season and with the program poised to be a CAA contender, he’s gonna get the pub he deserves.
3.) Sim Bhullar, C, New Mexico State – YOU CAN’T ARGUE WITH 7-FOOT, 5-INCHES. He shot 62.1 percent from the field and that was as a freshman where he averaged 24.4 minutes and 10.1 points per game. After a whirlwind summer where he enrolled late with Aggies, imagine what he will do with an entire college offseason under his belt?
Freshman to watch (That aren’t the obvious ones)
1.) Jarell Martin, F, LSU – Martin was a top prospect coming out. Then Johnny Jones got the Baton Rouge native to stay home and the national pundits seem to ease up on the hype. But keep an eye on him. He’s got a efficient half-court point guard in Anthony Hickey and a veteran presence in the post in Johnny O’Bryant III to take the heat off him. Because he won’t be the focal point, he could produce a lot.
2.) Sterling Brown, G, SMU – This will be the point guard in a Larry Brown-led offensive scheme. Brown got out on the break with the ball in high school and that’s what Brown will want to do this season. Don’t be surprised of Brown is one of the top assist men in the AAC.
3.) Bobby Portis, F, Arkansas – I got to watch this guy a lot in high school. He’s a 6-10 power forward with a serious work ethic. He has range from 16-18 feet and as long as he gains some weight, can be an all-freshman team player in the SEC.
Locks for production
1.) Javon McCrea, F, Buffalo – He’s been the best player in the MAC for the past two years (yes, he has) on one of the worst teams. The Bulls went 14-20 last season and now under new coach Bobby Hurley, McCrea has an astute basketball mind to learn from. McCrea’s 18 points, 7.9 rebounds were earned as the focal point of every opponent’s defensive plan. And he averaged a career worst….55.7 percent field goal percentage last season.
2.) Jason Brickman, G, LIU-Brooklyn – Make way for the definition of a point guard. Brickman’s assist average has increased by at least one full dime each season, leading the nation last season with 8.5 assists. Most of that was without Julian Boyd, the Blackbirds best player. Boyd recently re-tore his ACL heading into his 6th year, and now Brickman have to do even less to work with.
3.) Briante Weber, G, VCU – You can’t argue with the nation’s best on-ball defender, going by the stats. The junior has averaged at least two steals per game in both his previous seasons and he’s the best defender on the best defensive team in the nation. You have to acknowledge the defense.
1.) Marshall Henderson, G, Ole Miss – This pains me to say, because I love the way Henderson plays. But his 20.1 points per game that led the SEC came on 38.1 percent shooting overall and 35 percent from three. He did this averaging 10.9 threes TAKEN per game. He serves a role. He has serious game. But his numbers are deceiving.
2.) Jahii Carson, G, Arizona State – Carson is a pro, there’s no debating that. But his 18.5 points and 5.1 assists — both solid — came at the other end of averages of 2.5 fouls and 3.5 turnovers per game. He’ll have to clean those up with Evan Gordon no longer in the backcourt this season.
3.) James Michael McAdoo, F, North Carolina – Have to give a hat tip to Kevin Doyle for this one. JMM has time to make up for what has amounted to a sub-par career so far. The junior has averaged 10.1 points and 5.5 rebounds in 30 minutes per in two seasons, which isn’t bad. But McAdoo was a five-star recruit who was supposed to team with P.J. Hairston to be the heir apparent for Harrison Barnes. What he does while Hairston is out (however long that is) will be critical to his legacy in Chapel Hill.
The Backboard Chronicles is kicking off the 2013-14 season by taking a look at all Division I conferences and giving you the skinny on the best, worst, and most interesting things in each one. Today, we look at the ACC and what they’ll bring this season.
Preseason All-conference team
G- Ryan Anderson, Jr., Boston College – The best player in that conference that absolutely no one is talking about, unless you’re a hoophead. Anderson quietly put together one of the better seasons in the ACC. The Lakewood, Calif. native averaged 14.9 points and eight rebounds and shot 47.6 percent last season for a 16-17 Golden Eagles squad. He’s the dark-horse for ACC Player of the Year
G- C.J. Fair, Sr., Syracuse – Is there another player in college basketball that did more, but got less publicity than Fair? He led the Orange in scoring (14.5 points) and rebounds (seven per game) and was overshadowed completely by point guard Michael Carter-Williams and senior Brandon Triche. Fair didn’t mind. He was the model of consistency for Jim Boeheim’s crew last season. And admit it, you forgot that ‘Cuse goes to the ACC this season.
F- P.J. Hairston, Jr., North Carolina – Yes, Hairston is probably going to miss a few games with the NCAA looking into his dealings with an agent/agent runner and whatnot. He’s still a Top 5 player in the conference. He averaged 14.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals last season, and the 6-6 Hairston should headline this Tar Heels team when he comes back — whenever that is.
F- Jabari Parker, Fr., Duke – After all the guessing on whether Parker would take his two-year Mormon mission, Parker decided against it (early) and that’s great news for Mike Krzyzewski. Parker was a Top 3 consensus player in the 2013 class and should join a solid cast of newcomers in Rodney Hood and Matt Jones. It might just be one year (or not, being that Parker doesn’t fit the atypical personality of most of today’s top players) but it’ll be a good one.
F/C- Akil Mitchell, Sr., Virginia – Another pick that comes with a disclaimer with Mitchell coming off a broken hand in July. As long as Mitchell is healthy, the Charlotte native averaged 13.1 points and 8.9 rebounds and could get close to the 15 and 10 mark this season. The 6-8 banger shot 54.5 percent from the field last season and maintains as one of the top low-post marksmen in the league.
Preseason Player of the Year – C.J. Fair – New conference, same game. Fair comes from one of the top conferences last season in the (old) Big East and even though the ACC improves this season, it improves mainly because Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are coming over. It’ll translate. Expect 17-18 ppg and 7-8 rpg consistently from Fair this year.
Rodney Hood, R-Soph., Duke - During the 2010-11 season, Hood averaged 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds for a Mississippi State team that was on its way down at the end of the Rick Stansbury era. Now with Parker, Jones and Semi Ojeleye coming to campus, coupled with the emergence of Rasheed Suliamon and the return of Andre Dawkins, Hood’s first year with the Blue Devils is getting much love. But he should do enough to earn All-ACC honors if he plays like he did in his year in Starkville.
Duke – Coach K, Rasheed Suliamon, a stellar freshman class headlined by Jabari Parker. What’s not to love? Oh, and the whole “consistently staying at the top of the conference no matter what” thing. Really watch out for Rodney Hood, and Andre Dawkins makes his return to the Blue Devils after taking a year away from the game. Tyler Thornton is a low-key glue guy for this team. Quinn Cook should be much improved as well.
Syracuse – Again, new conference, same attitude. Jim Boeheim doesn’t have to worry about much when it comes to his players adjusting to the ACC. They played in a conference that routinely got 7-11 teams to the NCAA Tournament beforehand. Now? He’s got C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas and could be better if center DeJuan Coleman develops — which is something the Orange expect him to do.
North Carolina – This was a risk to put the Tar Heels this high, and it has nothing to do with P.J. Hairston. Reggie Bullock is gone and other than James Michael McAdoo, there isn’t another proven talent for Roy Williams. That said, Marcus Paige should take over full-time with the graduation of Dexter Strickland at point guard — both averaged four-plus assists last year. Nate Britt could come in and contribute as a solid sixth man behind Paige. Eyes will also be on senior Leslie McDonald, who averaged 7.2 points per game last season and could take a larger role as a scorer.
Virginia – The Cavaliers took everyone by surprise last season, being picked to finish near the lower-middle in the ACC and finishing in the Top 5. With Akil Mitchell healthy, Joe Scott (16.3 ppg) maintaining his perimeter presence (42.5 percent from 3) and sophomore Mike Tobey developing (6.8 points, 2.9 rebounds in 30 games last year) this could be a better team under Tony Bennett than some outside of Charlottesville believe.
Boston College - Ryan Anderson made many people believers last year, and he’ll continue to do so. But don’t sleep on Olivier Hanlan, who actually led the Golden Eagles in scoring (15.4 ppg). In fact, Steve Donohue’s Top 6 scorers return. This is the year that the Eagles get back to the NCAAs, because this is a team that, even last year, everyone knew could be great come 2013-14.
Maryland – Mark Turgeon was one of the luckiest coaches in the land when Dez Wells landed in his lap after being unfairly cast off from Xavier. Now, even with Alex Len leaving early for the NBA, the Terrapins have a shot at getting back to the NCAA Tournament this season. Nick Faust’s 9.3 ppg has to go up — which could happen since he averaged 12+ down the stretch last season — along with Wells’ steady presence at guard, this team should maintain. Jake Layman could be the guy that takes the Terps to the next level, if he starts consistently.
Notre Dame – Jerian Grant, this is your time. Combined with Eric Atkins, these two could form the most experienced backcourt in the ACC. Grant (13.3 ppg, 5.5 apg) and Atkins (11.2 ppg, 5.5 apg) will be able to dish the rock, but to who? Jack Cooley graduated, so it’ll be up to someone to step into the post, maybe Eric Katenda?
Pittsburgh – Jamie Dixon and the Panthers were a little taken aback when freshman Steven Adams left for the NBA (it was the right decision). That thinned them a bit in the frontcourt, but redshirt senior Talib Zanna can shoulder the load, averaging 9.6 points last season. However, that was with Adams to spell him. Look for Joseph Uchebo, a junior college transfer, to possibly come in and fill the role left by Adams. Lamar Patterson should be able to maintain what he did last season with 10 ppg.
North Carolina State - This time last season, Mark Gottfried’s squad was looking like a team that could throw a wrench into the ACC title picture for a few years to come. Now? Rodney Purvis is gone, as is C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell (to the pros) and Scott Wood graduated. All five starters are no longer in Raleigh. T.J. Warren will be asked to lead the Wolfpack along with six incoming freshman and just one senior. This team is a year away.
Georgia Tech - This was a young team last year. Their Top 2 scorers, Marcus Georges-Hunt (10.8 ppg) and Robert Carter, Jr. (9.9), are now sophomores. The biggest wild card will be the play of graduate transfer Trae Golden from Tennessee. Brian Gregory has to make some sort of impact with this team.
Miami – Jim Larranaga took a group of incredibly experienced players (the average age of the Hurricanes last year was around 23 years old) and made a Sweet 16 appearance. Now? Back to square one. The Top 6 scorers are gone. Angel Rodriguez getting a waiver might be the biggest piece yet to fall.
Florida State - With Xavier Rathan-Mayes being declared ineligible for the season, even more of the load is now on Okaro White and a cast of role players. Watch out for guard Devin Bookert, who shot 52.5 percent (32-of-61) from three last season.
Virginia Tech – Erick Green, the nation’s leading scorer, is gone off a 13-19 team. Now what for coach James Johnson? Second-leading scorer Jarell Eddie (12.3 ppg) is back, but a lot of guys will have to step up.
Wake Forest – C.J. Harris is gone, but Travis McKie and Devin Thomas return, along with the addition of graduate transfer Coron Williams, who averaged 9.2 points and shot 41.6 percent from three with Robert Morris last season. The team features 10 sophomores.
Clemson – Brad Brownell doesn’t have much to work with this season. Devin Booker and Milton Jennings are gone. K.J. McDaniels (10.5 points, 5 rebounds, 58 blocks last year) will take on the burden. Jordan Roper shot 41.4 percent last season from three. It’s going to be an uphill battle for the Tigers.
Most Likely Too…
…Record a triple-double – Ryan Anderson, Boston College – Could Anderson be another Michael Carter-Williams? Anderson exhibits the do-it-all game that lends itself to that. Given the right opponent (a bad one) it could happen.
…Be an All-American – Jabari Parker, Duke – He’s shown not only the physical game, but the mental aspect that is so critical to withstand the pressure of playing as a high-profile player at Duke. That usually equals consistent big-time play.
…Hit more than one game-winner – Dez Wells, Maryland – We should call this the Michael Snaer Award. Wells seemed to always be there for the Terps last season. With Pe’Shon Howard gone, he’ll shoulder the scoring load for a team that has a few players that could step into consistent roles. It may just be because he’s the lone scorer on that team.
…Lead the nation in one statistical category – Devin Bookert, Florida State – in three-point percentage – As previously stated, Bookert shot over 50-percent from the three and it wasn’t something small like 11-for-20. He can stroke it. With expectations lowered this season in Tallahassee, Bookert could surprise some people by hitting consistently from deep.
Preseason, postseason predictions
Regular season conference champions – Duke – A bevy of new talent (Jones, Parker, Hood) mix well with a nucleus of veterans (Suliamon, Quinn Cook, Alex Murphy, Dawkins, Thornton) and do what a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team does, win consistently.
Conference tournament champions – Syracuse - Tyler Ennis jumps right into the role left by Carter-Williams, C.J. Fair earns Lottery Pick status and veteran role players like Christmas, Coleman and Baye Moussa Keita do what they do and the Orange win their first ACC Tournament title in their first season in the league.
It’s a simple question: With their resume, does Virginia have the resume to bypass the seemingly endless amount of other teams on the proverbial Bubble and make it into the field?
Consider me as one of those who thinks yes, without question. And it all has to do with their quality wins.
According to RealTimeRPI.com (the site I swear by when it comes time to look at such things) the Cavaliers have seven wins over Top 100 RPI teams. Four of them are against the Top 50 in North Carolina State, North Carolina, Wisconsin and now, Duke. The three Top 100 wins are Florida State*, Tennessee and Maryland.
(*Yes, somehow Florida State is still a Top 100 team.)
So we have the wins out of the way. Now, we have to look at the other side of things, the part that might actually weigh on the Wahoo’s NCAA Tournament chances more than anything. The bad losses.
And man, they’re awful. In fact, you could make a case that everything I’m writing is total crap, and these should keep them out.
On the season, Tony Bennett’s team is 20-8. Of those eight losses, six are against teams outside the RPI Top 150, including what could turn out to be the shot to the jugular to their Big Dance chances, the 63-61 loss to a dreadful Old Dominion team that ranks 323rd in the RPI*.
(*I understand there are other ways of determining what Virginia’s chances are. But the RPI is the main factor by which the NCAA Tournament Committee decides, so by that rationale, one has to think like the committee thinks.)
In fact, before back-to-back losses to North Carolina (20th) and Miami (3rd) on Feb. 16 and 19, all of the Cavaliers’ losses were to teams outside the Top 150.
So yea, one might see exactly why the case can be made that Virginia has some work to do, possibly even needing a decent run in the ACC Tournament.
But here’s my main argument, with the numbers all laid out: Those disgusting losses early in the season to bad teams, all of which were in the CAA (George Mason, Old Dominion, Delaware), don’t mean as much as getting four wins over sure-fire tournament teams in Wisconsin, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duke.
Had the conference wins come in a lesser power conference such as the SEC or Big 12, which range from “bad” to “a bit down” this season, I’d say otherwise. But this a season in which even Miami, who isn’t traditionally a power in the conference, is dominant, and the ACC has shown to be up there with the B1G this season as a best-of-the-best conference (though I believe the B1G to be the best overall, the ACC a slight second).
So the Selection Committee has to ask itself: What do we value more? Good wins or bad losses? When it comes to Virginia, the answer to that question will decide whether they’re celebrating or sulking on national television during the Selection Show in a few weeks.
Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten
Last season might as well served as Quinn Cook’s redshirt season. The then-Duke freshman averaged 4.4 points, 1.9 assists and shot 25-percent in 11.7 minutes per game in 2011-12 and after all the hype surrounding him, looked well on his way to being a bust. Which doesn’t happen much with Mike Krzyzewski’s recruits.
This season, we’re finally seeing exactly why Coach K wanted Cook.
The sophomore point guard is averaging 11.4 points. 6.1 assists and 3.9 boards to accompany his 1.9 steals per game and has taken firm hold of the reins of the Blue Devils’ offense. He serves as the facilitator for national player of the year candidate Mason Plumlee.
But I guess the question is, how?
The obvious answer is hard work, but what’s different?
Let’s examine? (And we’re throwing out “experience” here, that’s a given).
Increased Offensive Role
This might as well be called “the departure of Austin Rivers”. Rivers was not only the point guard — even if his skill set screamed shooting guard — but was the lead scoring threat. When essentially both guard spots were spoken for by one player, that makes it hard to pick a role for Cook. This season, with Rivers gone to the NBA, he can do what he does best, whatever he wants. That starts with being the point man. He gets everyone involved. Along with his 6.1 dimes, four other players besides Cook are averaging double-figures in points. He spreads it out. With Ryan Kelly out with a foot injury, he’ll have to get another starter involved as well.
The Rise of Rasheed Sulaimon
When the freshman Sulaimon got to campus this season, no one saw what they’re currently getting from their starting two-guard. He’s taken on an unexpected scoring load (11.3 points, 41.3-percent shooting) and when both guards spots were question marks coming into the season, this makes things easier for Cook to not only be selective with his shots — he’s 45.3-percent on the season with fifth-most shots attempted on the team — but has another reliable three-point shooter with Sulaimon taking the second-most three’s on the team, behind the obviously lead gun Seth Curry, at 56. Sulaimon has made 21 on the season, for a 37.5-percent clip.
No Need to Be the Leader
In the past, this hasn’t been the case for most star guards at Duke. From Jason Williams to Kyrie Irving to Rivers, the point guard has always been the guy to star, by way of scoring and passing. Cook is fourth on the team in scoring and, as previously mentioned, fifth on the team in field goal attempts. He’s not asked to score. And while Krzyzewski hasn’t demanded a bulk of the scoring load, he has demanded a bulk of the leadership come from the guard spot, at least on the court. With Plumlee, Kelly and Curry all seniors pacing the team in the huddle, Cook is asked only to make sure to minimize mistakes while making plays when the opportunities are presented.
Watching tape of Cook this season, compared to last, is like night-and-day. A number of pundits believed he just didn’t get the system, I’d say that, looking back, the coaching staff was just saving him, grooming him, even. He played 387 minutes all of last season, so far in 2012-13, he’s already clocked 492.
Cook has made 0ne of the largest improvements from last season to this season, and the reasons are equal-parts patience and opportunity.
The ACC will have a lot of familiar faces this season as 35 starters from last season return including 8 who received some type of ACC honor last season.
ACC Preseason Rankings
1. Duke – How can you not pick the Blue Devils when Mike Krzyewski has four starters back from a squad that has 27 wins last season? Coach K sits at 927 wins, plus a few gold medals, I really don’t see this Duke team losing that many games, and will probably pencil them in right now as a team that we will see in Atlanta.
2. NC State – The Wolfpack also return four starters. C.J. Leslie (14.7 ppg) will be leading the way for Mark Gottfried’s squad that is the only team to return four players that were double digit scorers.
3. North Carolina – Roy Williams probably has the toughest job, needing to fill the void of four starters lost. The Tar Heels will rely on Dexter Strickland to be the leader. What may be a bigger story for college basketball fans is that Hubert Davis returns to Chapel Hill as an assistant coach.
4. Miami (FL) – Six of top seven scorers return for the Hurricanes. Reggie Johnson (10.8ppg, 7.3 rpg) will be among the senior leaders for Jim Larranaga. Julian Gamble is also back for Miami after missing last season from a torn ACL. A little fun fact since the NCAA approved the 3-point shot, Miami has made at least one three in 801 of 804 games.
5. Virginia – Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers return three starters and six of the team’s nine top scorers. Joe Harris returns as the leading scorer from last season. Harris is joined by last season ACC All-Defensive Team member Jontel Evans.
6. Florida State
9. Virginia Tech
10. Georgia Tech
11. Boston College
12. Wake Forest
Mason Plumlee – 4th in the ACC in rebounds, 5th in blocks and off rebounds last season.
C.J. Harris – 4th leading scorer last season
Lorenzo Brown – started all 37 games last year and led the conference in steals.
Dexter Strickland – returning from an injury during the middle of last season and is the team leader in scoring, assists and steals.
Ryan Anderson – led BC in scoring and rebounding as a Freshman.
Most Underrated Team – Florida State, four of the top five scorers return for the Seminoles.
Most Overrated Team – North Carolina, the Tar Heels have a lot to replace.
Player of the Year – C.J. Leslie, the junior earned second-team last year. He gets my nod, especially if he can lead the Wolfpack over Duke or UNC.
Coach of the Year – Tony Bennett, it would be too east to pick Coach K.
Sleeper Impact Player – C.J. Harris (35 min/game and 16ppg) really shouldn’t be a sleeper pick but with Wake being near the bottom of the ACC he doesn’t get the publicity that he deserves.