The differences in Aaron Craft and Marshall Henderson were astounding, really.
When you think about it, the 2013-14 basketball season, in part, was a study of how two men can be seen as “evil” to different people on totally different ends of the spectrum. Craft was, by all accounts, clean-cut, nice and did all the right things. Though he was still hated as if he somehow victimized an entire student section.
Then you had Marshall Henderson, who was 180-degrees in the other direction. The history with drugs. The arrests. The four schools in five collegiate seasons. Not to mention all the trashing-talking, jersey popping and general anger he incited….and that was just against Auburn.
They were the villains of the 2013-14 season (the last two seasons, really). But those two were seniors and have exhausted their eligibility.
So now we search for the next batch of possible prospects who are ready to cause fans to be ejected, security to be beefed up around the visiting bench and boosters’ wives to leave games early.
One caveat: No Duke players. Because, for the love of God, that’s just too easy. And y’all are better than that.
Ryan Boatright, Sr., G, UConn – The Mouth – There aren’t many great players going into 2014-15 that are known for their trash talk, but Boatright is one of them. He’s a smaller, talkative point guard who loves to get the the basket (12.1 ppg. 3.4 apg) and isn’t afraid to let you know that his game is up there with the best. He’s got a mouth to match his talent and I’d bet your life that we see it on a national stage.
Ron Baker, r-Jr., G, Wichita State - The Gun – Ron Baker has a well-rounded game (13.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.4 spg) , but he’s known for his range more than anything. He’ll piss off a fanbase from deep nightly (38 percent from 3-point range last year) and he’ll do it quietly, which added another dimension to how he’ll drive opposing fans crazy.
Aaron Harrison, Soph., G, Kentucky – Mr. Big Shot – Despite the insane amount of talent that recently descended upon Lexington, there’s no way student sections around the SEC forgot about Harrison’s big shot tour of March 2014. Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin fans sure as hell won’t. Every time the game is in the balance late, you can bet no. 2 will get more flak than his brother or the freshman phenoms for the Wildcats. And he and his 13.7 ppg will probably get the same attention from opposing defenses.
Kevin Pangos, Sr., G, Gonzaga - The Tradition – Pangos carries on a long, proud legacy for the Zags: Shorter, white point guards who somehow get to the rim with ease. John Stockton, Matt Santangelo, Dan Dickau, Derek Raivio, now Pangos. He’s already the most hated man in the West Coast Conference and, while he’s had some attention on a national stage, it should increase this season as a senior, where he should improve on his 14.4-point, 3.3-rebound, 3.6-assist per game averages. If anything, Pangos is already hated at Wazzu.
Siyani Chambers, Jr., G, Harvard and Wesley Saunders, Sr., G, Harvard – The Nerds -It’s the smart kid syndrome. Despite the Crimson having one of the better mid-major programs in the past five years under Tommy Amaker, the average fan at a college basketball game is going to prey on the fact that they go to a smart-kid school (which is a compliment, but you get the idea). Chambers (11.1 ppg, 4.6 apg) and Saunders (14.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg) have arguably the most talented mid-major backcourt in the land — rivaling Ryan Harrow and R.J. Hunter of Georgia State — and they’ll hear all about how they don’t belong all season.
Tyler Haws, Sr., G, BYU – The Jimmer Effect – I know, I know. It’s an easy play. But sometime you have to point out the obvious. He’s a white guard at BYU who gets all of the buckets — 23.2 ppg on 46.3 percent shooting, 40.4 percent from 3. He’s going to be the focal point of the Cougars attack and their opponents’ defensive strategy. And you can bet that he’ll be at the center of every student sections disparaging chants (though a lot of sections are slacking. Seriously, what’s wrong with you people? Get creative.)
Marcus Foster, Soph,, G, Kansas State – The Most Known Unknown – You’re welcome for the 3 6 Mafia drop. Foster had very few offers coming out of high school and he made the most of his Kansas State one. He averaged 15.5 points last season and with Oklahoma State losing so much and Texas bringing back a ton of good-but-not-marquee players, there needs to be a star in the Big 12 OUTSIDE of Lawrence, Kansas (though he’ll have to fight Georges Niang.) Foster could definitely be it for Bruce Weber’s team. He’s already probably made many enemie in Spokane.
Did I get it right? Did I get it wrong? Did I miss anyone? Let me know on Twitter at @David_Harten or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Even though Kentucky ended up winning the National Championship last year, it was Vanderbilt who took home the SEC title. Can UK recover from five players leaving for the NBA Draft, or will another team pull off another major upset in the SEC?
1- Kentucky. Nerlens Noel will lead another star-packed Kentucky recruiting class, that was ranked No. 2 in the nation. Scouts say Noel is every bit the shot blocker Anthony Davis was, though his offensive game still needs some work. Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin will both get big minutes in their freshman years as well. Of John Calipari’s five recruits from the 2011 class, only Kyle Wiltjer elected to stay for a sophomore season. He averaged five points a game and will be the only contributor back from that National Championship team. NC State transfer Ryan Harrow will be Calipari’s most experienced point guard he has had in years. It’s hard not to pick Kentucky to win the conference with the way Calipari is able to rebuild teams quickly.
2- Missouri. With Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon, Missouri will have one of the best starting backcourts in the country. The two combined for nearly 24 points and 10 assists a year ago. The Tigers had trouble with frontcourt depth last season, but 2010 starter Laurence Bowers (10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds per game in 2009-10) is back from a torn ACL, and they will also have UCONN transfer Alex Oriakhi, who has plenty of NCAA Tournament experience. They lost three players who averaged over 13 points a game, but with who they have coming back this is still a strong team.
3- Florida. The Gators are without two of the main backcourt members, including Bradley Beal who was the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft, but the cupboards are hardly bare. Shooting guard Kenny Boynton, who averaged nearly 16 points a game last year, will be counted on even more this year. Erik Murphy and Patric Young, who both averaged over 10 points and 4.5 rebounds a game last year return as well. This team will have a lot of depth and experience, including that of Mike Rosario and Brandon Ogbueze.
4- Tennessee. If the Volunteers can repeat what they did in their half season with freshman Jarnell Stokes, then this team will for sure be a top-five SEC team and borderline top-25 team in the nation. After Stokes was inserted into the starting lineup last year, Tennessee went 10-3. He provides a big physical presence that the Volunteers will need to rely on. He isn’t their only quality big man, as Jeronne Maymom (12.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg) will be a good counter for Stokes. Trae Golden is one of the SEC’s best point guards as well, leading the team in scoring at 13.6 a game. It’s NCAA Tournament or bust for Tennessee, as they return over 80 percent of the scoring and rebounding.
5- Arkansas. A 3-9 stretch to end last year ended squashed any chance of the Razorbacks making the Big Dance, but this year should be a different story. Arkansas got a huge break when BJ Young decided to not turn pro and stay in college another year. He led the SEC freshmen in scoring a year ago, shooting 50 percent from the field. Marshawn Powell tore knee ligaments after just two games last year — two breakout games, suggesting he is in for a big year this year. Mardracus Wade, Rickey Scott and freshmen JaCorey Williams and DeQuavious Wagner give this team a lot of depth.
9- Ole Miss
11- Texas A&M
12- Mississippi State
14- South Carolina
Jarnell Stokes- In just half of a year last season, Stokes was a monster in the post, and a full summer with the team will pay huge dividends going into his sophomore season. He only averaged 9.6 points a game, but that’s in limited playing time. Look for that to increase upward of 15 a game, as he has a full summer of workouts. He helped Team USA to a gold medal at the U18 FIBA Americas during the offseason, averaging 15 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
Nerlens Noel- It’s hard not to compare him to Anthony Davis, especially when there have been plenty of people that said his defensive game rivals Davis’. If that’s the case, pencil Noel in for an SEC first-team selection. He may not be totally polished on offense, but in a Calipari offense the offense will definitely be there for him to average at least 10 points a game. He doesn’t have to be Anthony Davis, just Nerlens Noel, and by the looks of it — that kid can play.
BJ Young- As a freshman last season, this guard was fourth in the whole conference in field goal percentage. You just don’t see that in freshmen, especially guards. Fayetville must be excited to get Young back for another season, one that is filled with high expectations for the Arkansas squad. He averaged 15 points a game last season, and with even just a little bit of improvement I’d be shocked if he didn’t leave for the NBA after this season.
Phil Pressey- Though he averaged just 1.3 points a game, Pressey did pretty much everything else last season. He was tops in the Big 12 in assists (6.4) and steals (2.1). His field goal percentage went from 38 percent in his freshman year to 43 percent last year, but he will still need to improve on that. Pressey was the lone Tiger who showed up for their first round NCAA Tournament game with Norfolk State, scoring 20 points with eight assists. Expectations are high with this Missouri team, and a lot of their success will depend on Pressey’s play.
Kenny Boynton- With apologies to Alex Poythress, Patric Young and Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Florida’s Young gets the nod for the fifth spot on this list because of his ability to take over games with his scoring. The SEC’s leading returning scorer, Boynton has averaged at least 14 points a game in all three years at Florida. Last season he had 13 games of at least 20 points. The biggest improvement Boynton made was in his field goal percentage, which jumped from 38 percent to 44 percent.
Most Underrated Team- Alabama
The Crimson Tide had a two-man monster in JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell a year ago, but with both of them graduated Alabama will need a new identity. Look no further than Devonta Pollard, who may be the best freshman in the conference aside from UK’s. Pollard has tremendous athleticism and will fit in right away with Alabama. Returning for the Crimson Tide is Trevor Releford, who last year averaged 12 points a game on 48 percent shooting. There are no seniors this year, so if they finish in the middle of the pack this year, look for them to be in the top-5 in 2013-14.
Most Overrated Team- Vanderbilt
With all of the pieces they graduated, it’s hard to imagine the Commodores enjoying much success this year. Jeff Taylor, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli are all graduated, leaving a big hole on the Vanderbilt squad that won the SEC Tournament last year. Not many are picking the Commodores to do much of anything this year, but fans may look at this time as a top-half SEC team just by habit. But with their top six players graduated, that simply will not be the case.
This one was a toss up for me, but if Tennessee repeats what they did when they had Stokes in the starting lineup last year, then it should be their sophomore big man who takes home this award. Word in Knoxville is that Stokes has looked even more polished. He made his presence known in just his third game last year, pulling down 12 rebounds and scoring 16 points in an upset win over UCONN. I envision Stokes being a double-double machine this year. He is now used to Cuonzo Martin’s system and knows what to expect out of the team, including that of Trae Golden who will feed Stokes the ball early and often.
Coach of the Year- Cuonzo Martin
Not many people expected Tennessee to be good this soon after Bruce Pearl’s exit. But Martin has put the Volunteers in a position to contend for the No. 2 team in the conference behind Kentucky. With several players on his team recruited from Pearl’s team, Martin was able to keep the team focused enough to contend for the NCAA Tournament, and they will be better this year with most of their players returning. The biggest thing Martin has done was grab the aforementioned Stokes as a part of his first recruiting class.
Sleeper Impact Player- Marshawn Powell
Powell began the 2011-12 season as good as anyone, scoring at least 19 points with five rebounds in each of his first two games. His season was short lived, as he tore knee ligaments after in just the first week of the season. He’s back for an Arkansas team that has high expectations. Powell is a guy who averaged 14.9 points and then 10.8 points in his first two years at Arkanas, and the Razorbacks will need him to be a double-digit scorer again in what they think will be a big year for their team.
Photos: SEC Conference/Google Images
We have made it to the final weekend of college basketball.
New Orleans is the place to be, for those that are stuck watching CBS, hopefully they don’t use the SkyCam shot too much, and hopefully Jim Nantz doesn’t force his ‘non-scripted’ sayings into the broadcast.
On one side of the bracket you have a bitter instate rivalry, Louisville vs Kentucky. Being from Louisville I have to list Louisville first, Kentucky can not be first when you list these two teams. One the other side Ohio State and Kansas face off for the right to play in the last college game of the season.
Back on December 10 Kansas defeated the Buckeyes 78-67, Thomas Robinson led Kansas with 21 points and 7 rebounds, however Jared Sullinger was out for the Buckeyes with an injury.
The Jayhawks are making their 14th Final Four appearance, they are one of six schools to appear in the Final Four at least 10 times, Kentucky and Ohio State are also on this list.
Here are a few reasons why the Jayhawks might cut down the nets on Monday. Kansas has out rebounded 29 of their 37 opponents, shot a higher percentage than 34 teams. In all of their games this season six different players have led the team in scoring, so they do not rely on one player to provide the spark. The Jayhawks have won 11 Final Four games (6th best in college basketball).
Thomas Robinson was named the ESPN.com 2012 National Player of the Year, is a First-Team All-American as well as Big 12 Player of the Year. With 17.7 ppg and 11.8 rpg, Robinson is the only player in the Big 12 that is averaging a double-double. Tyshawn Taylor has scored 20 or more points in five of his last nine games. The downside for Kansas, they are 2-4 in the Superdome.
If you are a fan can this Final Four be any better? You are in New Orleans, you have Kentucky and Kansas, two programs that have fans that are everywhere and travel well. You have the Louisville fans that flock to destinations to watch the Cardinals and you have Ohio State wanting to prove that the Big Ten is a power basketball conference.
-It took awhile to fathom what I’m writing. What you’re about to read.
For those around my age, we all heard from our parents about the 1983 Dream Game. Louisville, a team that had pined to play Kentucky for so long, got their shot because they met in the Mideast Regional of the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals came out on top 80-68 in overtime in Knoxville. I didn’t even have to look any of that up, I swear.
We all heard about 1984, a Kentucky win, as well, in the NCAA Tournament. Those were great games, but it all pales in comparison to what we’re about to witness.
Louisville and Kentucky are about to meet in the Final Four.
Take a second and think about it. Think about all the times anyone hoped this could happen, then shook it off.
In my (incredibly biased) opinion, Kentucky and Louisville is the best rivalry in college basketball. I’ll spare the details, because that’s not why I’m writing this. But it’s happening.
Two of the top 10 programs in college basketball history, interstate rivals, a bitter hatred among the coaches, the whole nine. There are too many moments in the past that define this rivalry. The Dream Game, Samaki Walker’s triple-double, Pitino’s return to Rupp, Patrick Spark’s three free throws, Edgar Sosa’s 3-pointer saving a near-collapse. Anyone who has paid any attention to these two teams has a moment.
And now it’s happening on the biggest stage of college basketball. In a city that thrives on things getting totally out-of-hand.
And that city thought the BCS National Title Game was insane.
The two fanbases need no more motivation to hate one another. Both teams, while they’ll deny it until the end, now have more motivation.
While most expected Kentucky to be in this position, no one saw Louisville coming. A 4-seed and a generous West Region allowed it to happen.
No matter which way you slice it, Kentucky looks like a heavy favorite, and it should be. The no. 1-overall seed is there for a reason. Louisville has nothing to lose, which also makes them dangerous.
But none of that matters this week. The city of Louisville is about to explode. Sports talk radio will talk about nothing else. If you’re a supervisor, don’t expect anyone to get much work done. And if you doubt that this rivalry is one of the tops in college basketball, I invite you to go to Youtube and explore, it won’t take much time.
I could never imagine this ever happening in my lifetime.
It’s about to. Good Lord is it ever.
-PHOTO: RIVALS.COM/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament gave us a lot of surprises, but will the Final Four teams be a surprise? We will find out by Sunday, but first let me preview the four match-ups I’m most excited for.
No. 7 Florida vs. No. 3 Marquette: These two teams are probably the best two teams nobody has been talking about during the tournament. I didn’t have either of these squads getting this far, but they have really impressed thus far. Jae Crowder put up 25 points and 16 rebounds one game and 17 points and 13 rebounds the next for Marquette — he has officially reached beast mode status. Florida hasn’t played the same type of competition as Marquette has, as they have blown out Virginia and Norfolk State, but in the NCAA Tournament you have to respect any blowout win. I think Crowder will be too much for the Gators though, and the Golden Eagles make the Elite Eight.
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 1 Michigan State: This is perhaps the best coaching battle of the round, as we have Rick Pitno and Tom Izzo going up against each other. The two have combined for 11 Final Four appearances, and I think the winner of this game will be able to beat the Florida-Marquette winner. Both teams have peaked at the right time, but I think the Cardinals still have too many question marks. If Gorgui Dieng gets into foul trouble again or if Peyton Siva is inconsistent with his shot again, then the Spartans should win this one easily.
No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 1 Kentucky: The rematch everyone has been waiting for will be here Friday night. Kentucky has cruised through their first two rounds, backed off of strong performances from Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague. Last time the Hoosiers were able to beat the Wildcats, they were able to get Anthony Davis in quick foul trouble, and Jones was basically nonexistent. Don’t expect that to happen again. Jones and Teague will be the wild-cards for UK — if they are playing to their full potential I’m not sure if anyone in the country can beat them.
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Syracuse: This is the one I’m most excited for. I love match-ups with teams of contrasting styles, and that’s exactly what this is. The Orangemen are as fun and exciting as a team as there is to watch in college basketball, and the Badgers simply aren’t, but their defense can stifle opponents. I agree with my counterpart, David Harten, in thinking that the Wisconsin style of play will throw Syracuse off too much, giving them the upset.