TBBC Conference previews: The ACC

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.

Sleeper player

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.

Team Rankings

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.

The rest

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 championsDuke – 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.

Agree or disagree with something? Let us know at tbbchronicles@gmail.com or on Twitter at @David_Harten or @TBBChronicles.


The Backboard Chronicles 2013-14 Preseason All-American team

It’s that time of year again. College hoops is here.

Yea, I get it, college football season is in full-swing. Cool. Here on this blog, though, no. It’s college basketball season because we say it is. Because Mark Emmert says it is. Or something.

Ok, first order of business, it’s been six long months, you’re trying to figure out exactly who is coming back and who left for the pros (or who listened to the wrong people). Never fear, The Backboard Chronicles has 15 of the best players in the nation in three neat, organized teams.

Without further ado , The Backboard Chronicles 2013-14 Preseason All-American team.

And big ups to you if you actually read the first five paragraphs of this post and didn’t scroll down. You’re detail-oriented.

FIRST TEAM

G- Andrew Wiggins, Fr., Kansas – This one is summed up in one word, “duh.” Or one sound, whatever. Wiggins is by-in-large the greatest prospect most scouts have seen since LeBron. And to some, it’s not even close. Wiggins picked the Jayhawks over Kentucky and Florida State. Now, as a result, Bill Self’s team went from being on-par with Oklahoma State and claiming at least a share of their ninth straight Big 12 Conference title to being favored over the Cowboys.

G- Marcus Smart, Soph., Oklahoma State – Speaking of Oklahoma State, meet the guy who will be responsible for dethroning Kansas. Smart was criticized for turning down Top 5 Lottery Pick money and coming back for his second year — though this guy thinks everyone should back off and let Smart do what he thinks is best for him. Smart paced Oklahoma State with 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists last season and all signs point to his boosting those numbers this season.

F- Doug McDermott, Sr., Creighton – The guy can flat out score. Post. Perimeter. Mid-range. In transition. Doesn’t matter. And he, like Smart, turned down a shot at being a decently-high NBA Draft pick for another year in the college ranks, playing for his dad with the Bluejays. The 6-8 offensive dynamo clocked 23.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and shot 54.8 percent from the field, 49 percent from three-point range and 87.5 percent from the free throw line. His exposure will boost with Creighton moving to the new Big East this season.

F- Jabari Parker, Fr., Duke – Call it a bold prediction, Parker will be here at the end of the year. Parker has been a Sports Illustrated cover boy and the focus of a number of recruiting profiles. But Parker is the crown jewel of a pretty solid recruiting class for Mike Kzyzewski. A 6-8, 225-pound slasher with a bevy of transition moves, Parker will have his way in the ACC. Maybe even ACC Player of the Year honors.

F/C- Julius Randle, Fr., Kentucky – There doesn’t seem to be a way to get through a preseason player list without including at least one from Calipari’s super-class. Julius Randle is that dude this year. Randle is a 6-9 post monster who can eat undersized (and even fairly-good sized) forwards for breakfast. He’s also already challenging Wiggins among the pundits for the 2013 NBA Draft’s top pick.

SECOND TEAM

G- Russ Smith, Sr., Louisville – Smith almost left for the pros after last season. While I believe every player is free to make their own decisions (well, at least after their freshman year, David Stern) Smith made the right call to return. Smith went from unknown freshman to college basketball’s most mercurial sophomore to a bonafide star as a junior. With Peyton Siva gone and JuCo All-American Chris Jones in, it’s not unrealistic to think Smith’s 18.7-point average might hold this season. He’ll have to improve on the 2.7 turnovers and 32.8 percent clip from three.

G- Jahii Carson, R-Soph., Arizona State – Carson was the greatest redshirt freshman in the nation not named Ben McLemore last season, dropping in more points (18.5) and assists (5.1) than McLemore — albeit on a lesser talented team. Carson decided to come back, and as a result he’s expected to maintain what he did in Tempe last season.

F- Jerrelle Benimon, Sr., Towson – “Who?” Yea, I can here that now. But the Georgetown transfer proved he’s not just thriving in a new system under Pat Skerry with the Tigers. Benimon averaged 17.1 points and 11.2 rebounds and shot 65.4 percent for a revived Towson team that won 18 games a season removed from a one-win campaign. He was the CAA Player of the Year in 2012-13. He can do that again this year. And more.

F- P.J. Hairston, Jr., North Carolina – If there’s anyone ready to see some hardwood, it’s Hairston, considering the offseason he’s had. Rental cars, agents, runners, they’ve all been a part of his summer. But off-the-court antics aside, Hairston can play. He’s already practicing with the team and there have been varying reports on how many games the 6-5 swingman will miss due to NCAA violaHAHAHAHAHA sorry couldn’t get through that. We all know Hairston will miss maybe an exhibition game. The junior averaged 14.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and shot 43.1 percent from the field.

F/C- Adreian Payne, Jr., Michigan State – Tom Izzo has a way of just getting the best out of all of his players, be it a walk-on or five star. Payne is one of those guys. Payne went from seven points to 10.5 last season and from 4.2 rebounds to 7.6. Payne’s biggest boost came at the free throw line, where he went from 69.7 percent to 84.8 percent. If he stays on this track, he’s going to terrorize the B1G.

THIRD TEAM

G- Gary Harris, Soph., Michigan State – After fighting off some early injury struggles, Harris ended up with a solid freshman season clocking 12.9 points and 1.4 assists per game. Now that he’s 100-percent, Harris should pair with Keith Appling to form a Top 2 backcourt in the B1G. This pick is based on Harris’ potential, and even with a sprained ankle he suffered in early August, I fully expect him to come back renewed and possibly turn himself into a first round draft pick.

G- Joe Jackson, Sr. Memphis – I believe in Joe Jackson. A Memphis-born product who was expected by a lot of people to spend one season at home before bolting for the pros, turnovers have remained his problem — he’s averaged at least 2.4 per game in this first three years with the Tigers. However, Jackson’s scoring production has improve yearly and it’s well-documented that Jackson bleeds Memphis. The guy has the drive and skill set, and this season he should put it all together.

F- C.J. Fair, Sr. Syracuse – There are a lot of arguments that Fair, who led the Orange in scoring despite being in the background to Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland all last season on the way to a Final Four. Fair might’ve been the most underappreciated player on a high-major team last season, with averages of 15.7 points, seven boards and shooting 47 percent overall and 46.9 percent from three-point range. Fair could’ve gone pro, probably landing on an NBA roster. Instead, he’ll be looked at as the leader and best player for Jim Boeheim.

F- Mitch McGary, Soph., Michigan – This one was a coin flip between McGary and Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell. McGary wins because honestly, he’s got more room to expand his game. McGary made a late-season move to 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds last year and he’ll be asked to do more down low with Tim Hardaway gone and Glenn Robinson III expanding his role.

F/C- Alex Kirk, R-Jr., New Mexico – Yet another product of the developmental redshirt year. Kirk went from 4.7 points and 3.7 boards in 2010-11 to 12.1 points and 8.1 rebounds last year. He could’ve gone pro and taken advantage of the hype — a la Kelly Olynyk — but with Olynyk, Anthony Bennett and Alex Len coming out, the draft was front-loaded with big man talent. The 7-footer could really improve his draft stock with a solid season. He’ll get it.

(And no honorable mentions. Honorable mentions are for the weak.)

Follow The Backboard Chronicles on Twitter at @TBBChronicles and David Harten at @David_Harten.


With Virginia, it’s a choice of good wins or bad losses

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

 


Marshall Henderson: The pros and cons of a ‘green light’ player

Watching tonight’s game between Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, I wanted to see one thing: Marshall Henderson.

All season, I’ve yet to see the Rebels’ redshirt junior play a full game, be it because I was busy or another game was more interesting. I finally got to see it, and wasn’t disappointed.

What’s beyond this link is why (credit to Matt Norlander for the video).

CLICK HERE TO WATCH.

The scary thing is that Henderson squared his feet from 35-feet and leaned only slightly forward to get the leverage to shoot that ball. It was nearly a textbook jumper for a guy who earns his scholarship chunking it from three.

As a fan, that’s tons of fun to watch. A guy that you see in your normal rec league game, playing Division I basketball, only he’s way more talented. He shoots in bunches and coach Andy Kennedy said he’s given Henderson the green light to shoot numerous times. It’s worked. The Hurst, Texas native leads the Southeastern Conference at 18.6 points per game.

What’s it take to do what Marshall Henderson is doing? Also, how is he limiting himself, offensively? Glad you asked. Even if you didn’t, you can find out below.

PROS

Square feet - The great shooters always do it. Lately, it’s become somewhat of a lost art. Something I like to call the “Pigeon Toe” effect is what makes Henderson great. When he sets his feet, his toes point inward, so that when he jumps, his feet — and as a result, his shoulders — are square to the bucket. It will always get the ball going in the right direction.

Defensive energy - Most offensive machines aren’t known for great defense. Henderson is by no means a Russ Smith or Aaron Craft, but he’s one of the more underrated perimeter defenders in the SEC. In his 41 minutes on the court, Henderson got his hands (deflection or steal) on 11 balls, all on the perimeter. He’s 6-2, and even though he averages 1.4 steals per game, he’s not going to do too much when a guard penetrates, but he has active hands, and legs. Four times in the second half alone, even if it was ill-advised, Henderson ran from the top of the key to the deep wing or baseline to chase down a shooter. For better or worse, Henderson likes the play the perimeter on both sides of the ball.

Ball-screen awareness - Any shooter worth his salt knows how to properly come off a screen, especially off the ball in a catch-and-shoot situation. What sets Henderson apart is his ability to know when to come off the screen. He’s great at coming off the shoulder of the screener. But, for example, five minutes into the game against Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, Marshall started on the right baseline, hesitated when he saw the ball get to the top of the key, and instead of coming off the screen of Reginald Buckner immediately, put enough of a stutter-step up to freeze the defender, Kedren Johnson, to get the space he needed to go wide off the screen, wrap around, catch and shoot from 25 feet. It’s the fact that he knows how to do this that gets Henderson space.

CONS

Overconfidence - Henderson has no fear. That’s fine. He’s got the tools to always believe he’s going to drop 30 in a game. But some nights, it’s not going to be his night. Henderson’s got the shooting part down, but the percentages suggest there’s night when they wont  fall. He’s hitting 36.1-percent from three and 39.7-percent overall. All hoopers have that night. When that comes, Henderson has a tendency to rely on jacking up threes to regain the swagger he shows — and pisses a ton of people off with. He had to learn to defer to teammates. His ability to pull the defense deep outside the perimeter can open a ton of mid-range looks for Reginald Buckner and Nick Williams.

Perimeter floating - Henderson is a bomber. He’s thrown up an mind-numbing 158 threes this season already. With that, home is on the perimeter. That can make any shooter complacent. There wasn’t much crashing the boards when it mattered for Henderson and a ton of cherry-picking. This can be a good thing on outlet plays, but to rely on it against a team like, say, Kentucky, could end in a lot of athletic guards like Archie Goodwin getting some offensive rebounds.

Henderson falls into the category that guys like Jimmer Fredette and J.J. Redick (at least his freshman year) did in college. Deep range with no conscience. I can dig that. So can a lot of fans. And it’ll help Ole Miss a bunch this season. To break down Henderson’s game is lesson in controlled chaos. Beautiful chaos. It’s what happens when that chaos starts to hinder the team’s gameplan that will determine if this is Kennedy’s year to take the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament.

Yes, Marshall Henderson is that important.


How Quinn Cook went from non-factor to X-factor

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.


Wisconsin needs to find a PG. F. A. S. T.

Think hard. Really hard. What’s the one thing that Bo Ryan’s good Wisconsin teams have always had?

I’ll give you a hit. Alando Tucker. Need another? Jordan Taylor.

Yea, smart point guards.

With Josh Gasser out for the season with a torn ACL and Taylor exhausting his eligibility, the Badgers don’t have that smart point guard. It showed in a 74-56 thrashing at the hands of Florida on Wednesday night. And the game wasn’t even that close.

The numbers aren’t staggeringly bad. Through two games, Wisconsin has 18 turnovers against 26 assists. But it was clear in an admittedly hostile arena like the O’Connell Center, you need a calming presence. Gasser was that. Taylor was that. Without it, a team can give up 74.

Gasser, Tucker and Taylor were also incredibly good on-ball defenders. Taylor averaged a steal per game while Gasser was at 0.7 per game last season. Tucker averaged a little under a steal per game for his career. When you don’t have that, the opposing teams’ guards does his thing. Dre Evans scored 13 for Southeastern Louisiana in the season opener and Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario combined for 25 points in the Gators’ win.

It’s not like the Badger could do anything about this. Gasser suffered the injury on Oct. 27. But the point is, they have no choice. Find a replacement, or the closest thing to it, or have fun losing a few games you should win.

Florida is by-and-large a good team. With proven scorers like Rosario, Boynton and Erik Murphy (24 in the win), along with a serious banger like Patric Young, they are a tough match-up for anyone.

But one thing that Bo Ryan’s best teams have had is a great point guard who can control the team in the half-court and one that can hold down the perimeter defensively. Gasser can’t be that guy this year and it’s going to have tragic consequences in B1G play if Ryan can’t find someone to replace him to some extent. Whether individually or by-committee.


2012-13 Superlatives: A bunch of “Who?” and Doug McDermott

Over the next day or so, we’re bring you a few superlatives we believe will pan out, or not. The choice is yours to  believe. Over the weekend, we’ll have our “Superlatives of the Ridiculous” up.

For now, four serious topics, with four totally subjective answers.

Most likely to win National Player of the Year

Doug McDermott, Creighton – Shocker, right? The leading returning scorer in the nation at 22.9 points per game has so much in his arsenal that it’s not fair. He can score on the inside (60.1 percent from the field), the perimeter (48.6 percent from three), can get ot the foul line (79.6 percent) and can move without the ball to get open. It’s frankly not even a tough decision. He’s a future NBA lottery pick whenever he chooses to come out for the draft and with the team he has around him, it’s fair to say the Bluejays will have no problem running the Missouri Valley Conference and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament isn’t out of the question. And we all know being on a good team just helps your cause.

Most likely to lead the nation in scoring

Frank Gaines, IPFW – WHO!? That’s the general reaction I get when I tell people this. But this dude can pour it in. He averaged 21.2 last season for the Mastadons (best mascot in sports) and has been the focal point of the Fort Wayne offensive attack for the past two seasons and knows how to handle double-teams and every team’s best defender. He’s a fifth-year senior who will contend with South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters for Summit League Player of the Year honors. Though he’s not as complete at Wolters. But he has to score to help IPFW, so score he will.

Most likely to lead the nation in 3-pointers

Kris Davis, SIU-Edwardsville – Again, WHO!?!? This one is actually easier than you would think. Davis led the nation in 3-point percentage last season but didn’t have the amount of shots to qualify at 59.8 percent (58-of-97). This season, he’s got some eyes on him, even if he does play for one of the worst teams in the Ohio Valley Conference. He’s going to get the green light on a team that doesn’t have a ton of scoring — Davis is their third-leading returning scorer at 11.6 ppg — so expect the volume to come, but does  the  percentage follow? I think so.

Most likely to lead the nation in rebounding

Dennis Tinnion, Marshall – Not so much of an unknown name. Tinnion averaged 10.2 points and 10.0 rebounds last season in his first year of Division I basketball. With DeAndre Kane back, he won’t be the focal point again and he’s got the athleticism, even at 6-8, 232 pounds, to get to balls that seem impossible. Most of rebounding is positioning and Tinnon lives under the basket. He’ll make his living cleaning glass this year.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF: Creighton University; SIU-Edwardsville


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