2012-13 Preview: Top 15 Backcourts

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

In the latest installment in our college basketball preview series it’s time to take a look at some of the best backcourts in America. Guard play is a focus of analysts every March, and with the disappearance of the true center over the years it should come as no surprise that many of the teams that make waves have superior guards. Below are the top 15 backcourts in the country heading into the 2012-13 season, with some honorable mentions as well.

1. Missouri
Players: Phil Pressey, Michael Dixon Jr., Keion Bell, Earnest Ross, Negus Webster-Chan, Dominique Bull, Jabari Brown*

Two starters, Michael Dixon Jr. and preseason SEC Player of the Year Phil Pressey, are back in Columbia and they’ll be joined by a talented cast of newcomers. Earnest Ross (Auburn), Keion Bell (Pepperdine) and Jabari Brown (Oregon; eligible at the end of the fall semester) all have college experience and will be called upon to contribute. Missouri may not have been the pick to win the SEC, but this group makes the Tigers more than capable of doing so.

2. Michigan
Players: Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Caris LeVert, Spike Albrecht

Burke was an honorable mention All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season, leading the team in both points and assists. Hardaway was Michigan’s second-leading scorer in 2011-12, and if he can raise his three-point percentage (28.7%) the junior will be even more productive offensively. If the freshmen are ready to contribute this becomes an even tougher group to deal with.

3. San Diego State
Players: Xavier Thames, Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley, James Rahon

Franklin, who was Mountain West Player of the Year, led the way with averages of 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game with Tapley not too far behind at 15.8 ppg. Thames runs the show for SDSU, as his 4.1 assists per game led the team and he finished in the top 10 in the Mountain West in both assists and assist-turnover ratio. Add in Rahon and you’ve got a group that can lead Steve Fisher’s program a long way in 2012-13.

4. Baylor
Players: Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip, A.J. Walton, Deuce Bello, Gary Franklin, L.J. Rose

Leading the way is Jackson (13.8 ppg, 5.9 apg), who was a Cousy Award finalist and All-Big 12 selection in 2011-12. Baylor also welcomes back sharpshooter Brady Heslip, whose marksmanship played an important role in the Bears’ March run. Walton’s the glue guy of the group while in Bello the Bears have an outstanding athlete who will certainly help them out defensively (if and when his offensive skill set becomes more refined, look out).

5. Louisville
Players: Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Kevin Ware, Wayne Blackshear

Siva’s improved play in March was a big reason why the Cardinals won the Big East tournament, and Smith can have some “Russdiculous” moments his ability to score is something the Cardinals can’t do without. Blackshear and Ware are two skilled players who will figure prominently in the Louisville attack after having limited roles last season due to injury.

6. Notre Dame
Players: Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Scott Martin

While it’s Atkins who initiates the offense for the Fighting Irish it was Grant who led the team in assists last season. Grant posted averages of 12.3 points and 5.0 assists per game with Atkins not far behind at 12.1 and 4.1. Add in an experienced veteran who can both knock down perimeter shots and hit the boards in Scott Martin (9.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and a good shooter in sophomore Pat Connaughton and you’ve got a quartet fit to challenge just about anyone in the country much less the Big East.

7. Memphis
Players: Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Antonio Barton, Geron Johnson, Damien Wilson

Jackson averaged 11.0 points and 3.8 assists per game last season, and both are numbers that can increase in 2012-13 provided he’s matured as a floor general. The experience of seniors Antonio Barton and Chris Crawford will help matter for Memphis, with the latter coming off of a season in which he led the Tigers in assists. The wild card: that would be junior college transfer Geron Johnson, who hasn’t always made the right decisions off the court.

8. NC State
Players: Lorenzo Brown, Scott Wood, Rodney Purvis, Tyler Lewis

While Wood is listed on the official roster as a forward his role is often that of a perimeter player so that’s why he’s on here. The senior was one of the ACC’s best shooters last season, as he knocked down 41% of his shots from beyond the arc. The other returnee is Lorenzo Brown, who is arguably the best point guard in the ACC. Add in a pair of McDonald’s All Americans in Lewis and Purvis and you’ve got a very talented quartet.

9. Cincinnati
Players: Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick, JaQuon Parker, Ge’Lawn Guyn, Jeremiah Davis III

Wright led the team in assists last season (4.6 apg) and finished with an assist-to-turnover ratio better than 2-to-1, and with forward Yancy Gates and guard Dion Dixon gone it’s likely that the senior is asked to do more scoring-wise. Kilpatrick was outstanding throughout for Cincinnati, averaging a team-high 14.3 ppg and shooting 43% from the field. Parker was one reason why Cincinnati was able to adjust to a smaller lineup as he averaged nearly six rebounds per game, and that’s something they’ll likely do again this year.

10. Florida State
Players: Michael Snaer, Ian Miller, Terry Whisnant II, Montay Brandon, Aaron Thomas, Devon Bookert

One big reason why FSU should return to the Big Dance is the return of senior guard Michael Snaer, who led the team in scoring and is also one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. He’ll be joined by point guard Ian Miller, who averaged more than ten points per game off the bench in 24 games. The depth will be provided by Terry Whisnant II, who didn’t see much playing time due to the presence of Dulkys and Loucks, and three freshmen led by Montay Brandon.

11. Indiana
Players: Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Maurice Creek, Remi Abell, Yogi Ferrell

Hulls is the most experienced member of the rotation while Oladipo is a flat-out pest defensively. Oladipo made great strides offensively from his freshman to sophomore season, and a similar jump could land him among the best guards in the Big Ten. Add in Sheehey, who averaged 8.5 points per game last year, and you’ve got a solid trio to begin with. Adding Ferrell and Creek to this group is a plus, provided Creek remains healthy.

12. New Mexico
Players: Kendall Williams, Tony Snell, Jamal Fenton, Hugh Greenwood, Demetrius Walker, Cleveland Thomas

Losing Drew Gordon in the paint definitely hurts, but the return of four guards who played a major role in last year’s championship season is why no one should disregard New Mexico in the Mountain West race. Kendall Williams is UNM’s leading returnee in both scoring and assists while Tony Snell ranked among the Lobos’ most consistent players last season. Jamal Fenton and Hugh Greenwood are back to handle the duties at the point, and by the end of last season it looked as if Demetrius Walker began to figure things out offensively.

13. Gonzaga
Players: Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr., David Stockton, Michael Hart, Guy Landri Edi, Drew Barham

Pangos, who was the WCC Freshman of the Year, led Gonzaga in both points and assists last season and finished with an offensive rating of 120 (per statsheet.com). He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by Bell Jr., who was another of Gonzaga’s double figure scorers in 2011-12 (they had four total). David Stockton rarely makes mistakes when running the point, which affords Pangos the opportunity to work off the ball on occasion. And keep an eye on Landri Edi in his second season in the program.

14. Drexel
Players: Frantz Massenat, Damion Lee, Chris Fouch, Aquil Younger

Massenat is the early favorite to win CAA Player of the Year, and he led the Dragons in both points and assists in 2011-12. Lee is only a sophomore and it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if he won the honor either this season or down the road either, as he’s versatile enough to cause fits anywhere on the floor. And last but not least there is Fouch, who has proven to be one of the best sixth men in the country over the course of his career.

15. VCU
Players: Darius Theus, Rob Brandenburg, Briante Weber, Troy Daniels, Treveon Graham, Teddy Okereafor, Melvin Johnson

Leading scorer Bradford Burgess may be gone but Troy Daniels averaged just over ten points per game last season and Darius Theus led the Rams in assists. Treveon Graham provided an offensive spark off the bench last year as he averaged 7.0 ppg in just under 17 minutes of action, and Briante Weber may have averaged 4.9 ppg but he did lead the team in steals. Brandenburg and Okereafor will add even more depth, and VCU landed a major pickup when Melvin Johnson committed during the summer.

Others (in alphabetical order): Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, La Salle, Marquette, Miami, Nevada, Ohio State, Saint Louis, Saint Mary’s, Stanford, and Syracuse.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Trae Young’s turnover-plagued night costs No. 4 Oklahoma at Kansas State

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When Stephen Curry was a freshman at Davidson, in one of the first games of his college career, he turned the ball over eight times in the first half of a game at Eastern Michigan. Head coach Bob McKillop toyed with the idea of benching his star freshman, instead opting to turn him loose again in the second half.

Curry scored 13 second half points – to go along with five turnovers – and then went out and dropped 32 in his next game.

Those 15 points and 13 turnovers were his first career double-double, and I’m not sure that he’s slowed down since.

I say all that to say this: It is a minor miracle that the first time that Trae Young looked mortal came on January 16th.

No. 4 Oklahoma went into Manhattan on Tuesday night and got worked over by Kansas State. The Sooners ended up losing 87-69. They trailed by 14 points within the first 10 minutes of the game. Young finished with 20 points and six assists – numbers that would be phenomenal for literally any other point guard on the road in conference play – but he shot just 8-for-21 from the floor, finished 2-for-10 from three and turned the ball over 12 times.

12!

In a vacuum, this performance really wouldn’t be anything to worry about. Young is Oklahoma’s offense. When he has a bad game, the team is going to struggle. That’s the risk of relying this much on one player. It is that simple, and the idea that we should expect a freshman point guard to make it the entirety of conference play in a league as difficult as the Big 12 is ludicrous. He’s going to throw up a dud every now and again, and that’s what happened on Tuesday.

“I played terrible,” Young said. “I blame a lot of this loss on me.”

Where this becomes a concern for the Sooners is that the turnover problem that Young dealt with on Tuesday is not exactly an isolated incident. Young is leading the nation averaging 5.2 turnovers per game, and while that number is inflated by opportunity – Young plays in the nation’s third-fastest offense with the highest-usage rate we’ve ever seen in the KenPom era – his turnover rate of 19.2 is somewhat concerning. For comparison’s sake, Jalen Brunson’s turnover rate is 10.5. Joel Berry II’s is 11.7. Devonte’ Graham’s is 17.0.

The biggest worry is that the number keeps rising. Young has set a career-high in turnovers in each of the last two games, three of the last four games and four times total since the start of Big 12 play. There are a lot of good coaches, good teams and great point guards in the Big 12. Teams may have started to solve the riddle, which means that Lon Kruger and Young are going to have to start making some adjustments.

And that will come.

Kruger is one of the best pure basketball coaches in the business.

He’ll find an answer.

Which is why the most disappointing part about this loss is that it puts Oklahoma in a tough spot in regards to an outright Big 12 regular season title. With how strong the top of the conference is, losing games against anyone outside of the top four is a major disadvantage, and Oklahoma is now the only team amongst that group – West Virginia, Texas Tech and Kansas included – that has lost one.

But credit where credit is due: Bruce Weber put together a game-plan to stymie Young, got 24 points and five assists out of Barry Brown and 21 points, seven boards and seven assists out of Dean Wade.

The Wildcats kicked Sooner tail on Tuesday, and in the process, earned themselves a win that is going to carry quite a bit of weight on Selection Sunday.

Silva leads Gamecocks to 76-68 win over No. 18 Wildcats

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari thought his freshmen looked like freshmen for the first time all season. South Carolina’s Chris Silva continued to look like a major force in the Southeastern Conference who led the Gamecocks’ dramatic second-half comeback against the Wildcats.

Silva tied his career high he set earlier this month with 27 points as South Carolina (12-6, 3-3 SEC) rallied from 14 points down in the second half to top No. 18 Kentucky 76-68 on Tuesday night.

Silva “was the difference,” Calipari said. “He manhandled everyone we put on him.”

It didn’t look like it would have an impact midway through the second half when Kevin Knox’s short jumper with 12:28 to go put the Wildcats ahead 54-40. But that’s when South Carolina, fueled by the powerful, 6-foot-9 Silva, got going and outscored Kentucky (14-4, 4-2) 36-14 the rest of the way to pull off the upset.

Silva had 12 points in that stretch to lift the Gamecocks.

As well as Silva played, Kentucky’s vaunted group of freshmen began trying to make the splashy, dramatic play instead of the smart one, Calipari said. As South Carolina gradually cut into the margin, the Wildcats shrunk from the challenge.

“All of a sudden, you’ve got a bunch of young guys that don’t know how to grind it,” Calipari said.

That was evident when Wesley Myers’ driving layup tied the game at 65-all and he followed that with a second straight layup for the Gamecocks’ first lead of the second half, this one ruled good when Kentucky’s Nick Richards was called for goaltending.

Maik Kotsar made four straight foul shots to give South Carolina a 71-67 lead and Kentucky could not respond.

“We weren’t listening to nothing the coaches were saying,” Knox acknowledged.

The Gamecocks broke a four-game losing streak to Kentucky, which managed just three points over the final 6 minutes.

South Carolina coach Frank Martin talked with Silva at halftime, urging him to go straight up and over Kentucky’s defenders instead of putting up shots away from the basket. “He told me to go strong and finish,” Silva said.

All the Gamecocks seemed to follow Silva’s lead.

“Our guys took ownership,” Martin said as the Gamecocks won for third time in four games after opening SEC play 0-2.

Frank Booker added 18 points for South Carolina.

Knox led Kentucky with 21 points. No other Wildcat had more than 10 points.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats had little consistency with their shooting touch. But their relentless style helped them claw back from an early 19-12 deficit to lead 37-34. The active Kentucky lineup pushed the pace and made the Gamecocks pay for putting them on the free throw line, going 17 of 22 in the first 20 minutes. Things changed down the stretch as Kentucky’s freshman-heavy team struggled to keep up with the Gamecocks. The Wildcats were just 6 of 14 from the free throw line after the break.

South Carolina: When the Gamecocks miss shots, they’re in trouble. After starting the game 7 of 9 from the field, South Carolina missed 18 of its final 21 shots of the opening half. That helped turn a seven-point lead into a 37-34 deficit at the break. Shooting woes have plagued the team much of the season. In fact, the Gamecocks shot just 27 percent from the field last time out and somehow pulled out a 64-57 victory at Georgia on Saturday. The Gamecocks shot just 37.1 percent in this win.

VANDERBILT’S DEBUT: Highly regarded 6-9 freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt, who was out with a left foot injury, finally saw his first action as he came in off the bench against South Carolina. And Vanderbilt was rusty after not playing this season. He missed his only attempt in the opening half and tipped in a ball for a South Carolina basket while fighting for a rebound. Vanderbilt finished with six points and five rebounds. “I thought he was pretty good first time out,” Calipari said.

KNOX’S STREAK-SAVING SHOT

The Wildcats were 1 of 11 on 3-pointers and the one made 3 by Knox ran Kentucky’s string of consecutive games with a basket from behind the arc to 1,031. Knox’s shot came with 7 minutes to go.

UP NEXT

Kentucky starts a two-game home stand against Florida on Saturday.

South Carolina faces its second straight ranked opponent in No. 21 Tennessee at home Saturday.

___

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

Tuesday’s Three Things to Know: Kentucky loses, K-State whips Oklahoma and UNC wins

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1. KENTUCKY FALLS AS JARRED VANDERBILT MAKES HIS LONG-AWAITED DEBUT

Having missed No. 18 Kentucky’s first 17 games due to a foot injury, Kentucky freshman Jarred Vanderbilt made his debut Tuesday night against South Carolina. While Vanderbilt showed some flashes of the skill that made him one of the top recruits in the 2017 class, it was clear that there’s a lot of rust to be shaken off. But the return of Vanderbilt was not enough to help Kentucky avoid defeat, as South Carolina picked up the 76-68 victory thanks in large part to Chris Silva.

Silva, who’s been thrust into a position of leadership due to how much South Carolina lost from last year’s Final Four squad, was the best player on the floor Tuesday night. Silva scored a game-high 27 points while also grabbing eight rebounds, shooting 9-for-17 from the field and 9-for-13 at the foul line. Outside of Nick Richards, who tallied 12 points and four rebounds before fouling out, Kentucky did not offer up much resistance in the paint and Silva made the Wildcats pay for it.

Add in the fact that both Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (six points, six turnovers) and Hamidou Diallo (five points) struggled to get going, and the end result was the shorthanded Wildcats losing a game they led by 13 points with 13:25 remaining. In a game that lacked flow for significant stretches — the teams combined to attempt 74 free throws — Kentucky managed just four fast break points. And with the point guard play lacking sans the injured Quade Green, Kentucky couldn’t do enough offensively to close out the Gamecocks.

2. KANSAS STATE WHIPS NO. 4 OKLAHOMA

There’s no denying the fact that Oklahoma freshman point guard Trae Young is one of the nation’s best players, and an early frontrunner for national Player of the Year honors. That being said, the Sooners really need their best playmaker to get his turnover issues in check. After turning the ball over nine times in the Sooners’ overtime win over TCU on Saturday, Young racked up a stunning 12 turnovers in Oklahoma’s 87-69 loss at Kansas State Tuesday night.

Add in the fact that he shot 8-for-21 from the field in scoring his 19 points, and the end result was what is the worst night of Young’s freshman season. Give credit to Bruce Weber’s charges, especially Barry Brown Jr., for much of this as they were active defensively and got after Young all night long. Brown also scored 24 points and dished out five assists, with Dean Wade adding 21, seven boards and seven assists as Kansas State picked up its first win over a ranked team this season.

Our Rob Dauster has more on Young’s rough night here.

3. NO. 15 NORTH CAROLINA HOLDS OFF NO. 20 CLEMSON

Having never beaten North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Clemson dropped to 0-59 all-time as Cameron Johnson led five Tar Heels in double figures with 21 points. After shooting a combined 3-for-16 from three in the four games prior, Johnson was 6-for-9 from deep and 7-for-10 from the field overall. Johnson and Kenny Williams III combined to score 20 points in the first half, which helped North Carolina build a 15-point halftime lead despite Joel Berry II and Luke Maye both struggling offensively.

Berry and Maye would pick it up in the second half, which helped North Carolina hold off a Clemson team that made ten of its first 11 shots from the field. Marquise Reed tallied 21 points and Shelton Mitchell 18 for the Tigers, who shot better than 61 percent from the field in the second half. Clemson should be fine moving forward, but the big takeaway from this result is Johnson breaking out of his slump and showing just how valuable he is to North Carolina moving forward.

Cameron Johnson ending his slump is big for No. 15 North Carolina

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When it comes to the long-term hopes of No. 15 North Carolina, not only to win the ACC but to also be a national title contender, the play of veterans Joel Berry II and Luke Maye will be critical.

Rated among the best in the country at their respective positions, Berry and Maye entered Tuesday’s game against No. 20 Clemson averaging a combined 35.6 points per game.

Yet it would be two other Tar Heels, Kenny Williams III and Cameron Johnson, who combined to do the damage that dropped the visiting Tigers to 0-59 all-time in Chapel Hill. North Carolina won 87-79, holding off a Clemson squad that shot 61.3 percent from the field in the second half due in large part to the work done in the first half.

While both Maye and Berry II were kept quiet in the first half, Williams (12 points) and Johnson (eight) combined to score 20 points in the stanza. Johnson would finish the game with 21 points, the most that the Pitt transfer has scored in a North Carolina uniform, and Williams would add 15 as Roy Williams’ team moved to 4-2 in ACC play.

Berry (17 points, four assists), Theo Pinson (12 points, seven rebounds, six assists) and Maye (11 points, four rebounds, five assists) all performed better in the second half, making it possible for the Tar Heels to hang on despite being challenged by a team that made ten of its first 11 second-half shots.

Williams and Johnson have proven themselves to be capable supplementary scorers this season, with the former averaging just over 12 points per game on the season and the latter at 9.7. But in the case of Johnson, following up his 2-for-10 effort in Saturday’s win over Notre Dame by shooting 7-for-10 from the field (6-for-9 3PT) is a needed bounce-back effort.

Prior to Tuesday night, Johnson reached double figures just once in the four games prior (14 vs. Boston College) and shot a combined 3-for-16 from three. Getting Johnson back on track is a big deal for North Carolina, and if his performance against Clemson can serve as a spark that would certainly bode well for the Tar Heels moving forward.

A productive Johnson affords Roy Williams the luxury of playing a “small” lineup in which Johnson mans the four and Maye the five. This North Carolina team isn’t like past editions in the Williams era, as many of those squads possessed the ability to have two “true” big men on the court at all times. With the big men lost from last year’s national title team, it’s been Maye carrying much of the load with freshmen Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley both looking to work their way into the fold.

A consistent Johnson not only makes North Carolina better, but it’s also a necessity given the team’s available options.

As for Clemson, this game felt like one of the program’s best chances to finally pick up that elusive win in Chapel Hill. Brad Brownell’s group entered the game with a 15-2 record, and with the improvements both in the post (Elijah Thomas) and on the perimeter (Marquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell) this is a group that has some staying power.

But Reed, Mitchell and forward Donte Grantham got off to frigid starts, combining to score two points on 0-for-13 shooting from the field in the first half. Despite the first-half efforts of Thomas the hole was too deep to climb out of, with Clemson pulling to within two on multiple occasions in the second half. Reed got hot in the second stanza, finishing the game with 21 points, and Mitchell would add 18 points to the effort.

Now 1-1 halfway through an important four-game stretch — Notre Dame next, followed by a trip to Charlottesville to take on No. 2 Virginia — when it comes to their NCAA tournament seeding prospects, Clemson paid the price for its inability to knock down shots in the early going. But in their comeback, the Tigers put forth a performance along the lines of what they’ve managed to do for much of this season to date.

Unfortunately for Clemson, its supplementary scorers were unable to match the production of Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams III.

VIDEO: Kentucky coach John Calipari shows long-range skills during shootaround

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Kentucky coach John Calipari’s shooting touch is still there, even from long range.

The Hall of Famer proved that during Tuesday’s shootaround before the No. 18 Wildcats faced South Carolina in a late-evening Southeastern Conference contest. In a video posted on his official Twitter account, Calipari stepped up and drained a basket from center court to his players’ surprise.

The coach smiled as he walked off the court, showing the swagger and confidence he seeks from another young roster of freshmen and sophomores.

Then again, one key to a coach getting what he wants from players is showing them how it’s done.