The five most important role players in the Sweet 16

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Josh Harrellson, Kentucky: Kentucky does not have a lot of size on its roster. In fact, unless Kentucky fans want to put their faith in Eloy Vargas, Harrellson is the only interior presence the Wildcats have on their roster. The 6-foot-11 senior plays the same role that Brian Zoubek played for Duke last season. He defends, he takes up space, he rebounds the ball, and he’ll finish around the rim. But what makes Harrellson more important in this round is that Kentucky will be playing Ohio State. The Ohio State that has Jared Sullinger. Harrellson is going to be counted on to slow down the Buckeyes freshman.

Alex Oriakhi, UConn: UConn is not a very good shooting team from the field, but the reason it is the 12th-most efficient offensive team in the country is offensive rebounding. And no one is as important to the Huskies’ work on the glass than Oriakhi. The sophomore center is a space eater in the paint and a horse getting on the back boards. It’s not the rebounds he grabs, either. I haven’t seen many big men this season that were better than Oriakhi at tipping a loose ball back out to teammates.

Vernon Macklin, Florida: When we talk about the Florida Gators, the names that come up first are always Chandler Parsons, Erving Walker or Kenny Boynton. Perimeter players. Macklin, a former McDonald’s All-American and transfer from Georgetown, may end up being one of the most important players on this Florida roster because of the balance he provides. Macklin has put in the work, and he’s developed a pretty good post game. Florida can dump the ball in to him inside and, more often than not, something good comes out of it. He keeps defenses honest.

Kendall Marshall, North Carolina: When you look in the scoring column, Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson are the heroes. They combined for 139 points and 53 rebounds in two games last weekend. But what makes them so effective — what makes the North Carolina offense and transition game click — is the play of Marshall.

DJ Gay, San Diego State: The Aztecs’ strength is their front line. They have three players that are versatile offensive weapons, can crash the glass and run in transition. But DJ Gay might be the most valuable player. Gay is one of the most underrated point guards in the country, and his importance to this team cannot be understated. He doesn’t turn the ball over, he can create shots for his teammates, and he facilitates the offense. When Gay is hitting from three, he can help spread the floor and create space in the paint, which makes the Aztecs very dangerous.

PHOTO: Ohio State’s new LeBron James shoe display

during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium on January 12, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.
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Ohio State has capitalized on its close relationship with NBA superstar LeBron James over the years and now has a new shoe display that should come in handy during recruiting.

The Buckeyes put out a tweet late this week with the display, calling themselves “THE LeBron school.” While this is something small, recruits like that the Buckeyes are tied into the best player in the world and it’s cool to them that Ohio State gets some exclusive gear.

Rutgers hoping new duo can bring a spark

of the Ohio State Buckeyes against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during their Big Ten conference game at Rutgers Athletic Center on February 8, 2015 in Piscataway, New Jersey.
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Rutgers has struggled to achieve success on the floor the last few years and head coach Eddie Jordan is hoping that some talented newcomers can help start a turnaround. With the start of practice, local media saw some of the Scarlet Knights’ early practice and Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press noted that the duo of freshman point guard Corey Sanders and junior college forward Deshawn Freeman were getting a lot of burn together.

With both incoming players being four-star prospects, it’s hardly a surprise that Jordan would see what the two were capable of. According to Carino, it meant a lot of Sanders driving and forcing the defense to collapse before finding Freeman.

“It seems like coach always has us on the same team,” Freeman said to Carino. “Ever since we’ve gotten here, he’s trying to get us to play together.”

Carino also notes that since Rutgers is deeper, longer and more athletic in general this season, the team could do more with a pressing defense to help create turnovers.

While Rutgers still faces an uphill climb in the Big Ten, they at least have some exciting pieces that will be in place for a few seasons.