NEW ORLEANS – For the fifth consecutive season, John Calipari brought in one of the best high school guards in the country. The previous four? Two went No. 1 over all in the NBA Draft, one went fourth and the other went eighth, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when the expectations for Marquis Teague heading into the season were incredibly lofty.
But it took a while for Teague to get acclimated to the college game. He wasn’t terrible at the start of the year, but he certainly wasn’t great. He struggled with turnovers early in the season. He didn’t find his shooting stroke until conference play.
Once Teague gained that confidence, however, he became one of the biggest reasons that Kentucky went from a really good team to a potentially great team. And it was on display on Monday night.
Teague finished with 14 points and three assists, and while he cooled off later in the game and finished just 5-14 from the floor, it’s far from an indicator for how he well he played. Teague was hot early, scoring nine points in the first 13 minutes.
But he played a bigger role than that.
The reason that Kentucky was able to get up by as much as 18 in the first half wasn’t necessarily due to their ability to get out in transition. That certainly helped, but the majority of their points came off of well-executed half-court offense. A point guard’s role in running half-court offense is critical, and Teague went a long way towards showing that he was capable of running a team.
It is still far from a guarantee that Teague will leave school this spring to head to the NBA. As he said after the game, he has four weeks until the NBA’s deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft, in which time you better believe that his coaching staff will do everything in their power to determine just where he is projected to get picked. It’s not out of the question that Teague could end up becoming the fifth consecutive point guard coaching by Calipari to leave school after one season and head to the NBA.
That possibility is a testament to just how well he played on Monday and just how far he has come since November.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.