Position Rankings: The 20 Best Small Forwards

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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.

The Top 10

1. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State: Thomas has been a dangerous scorer for two seasons with the Buckeyes, but both of those seasons came with Jared Sullinger dominating the offense. With Sully off to the NBA, Thomas should slide into the role of OSU’s go-to offensive weapon. The biggest question mark with Thomas? Will he be primarily a perimeter player or post presence this year. Thad Matta doesn’t exactly have a plethora of low-post scorers at his disposal.

2. Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State: Franklin could legitimately be considered one of the nation’s most underrated players. Not only is he the most productive player for a very good Aztec team — he nearly averaged 20 points and 10 boards during conference play a year ago — but his ability to rebound and while being the second-biggest player on the floor for SDSU (he’s 6-foot-5) allows Steve Fisher to go small and create mismatches.

3. Otto Porter, Georgetown: Porter is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. He’s athletic, he’s 6-foot-9, he can defend literally every position on the floor, and he’s a defensive playmaker to boot. As a freshman, he averaged 9.7 points and 6.8 boards, and he only now is learning how to play on the offensive end of the floor and fit into Georgetown’s system. I saw him hit 12 out of 13 threes at a workout earlier this year. He’s the real deal.

4. Alex Poythress, Kentucky: Poythress is the one of the two guys on this list that can end up making me look foolish for having him so low. He’s an athletic combo-forward who has a skill-set that seems like it was designed to play for John Calipari, and he’s changed his body since he’s been on campus to become even more powerful. I’m concerned about how he fits in alongside UK’s twin towers, but he’s still a lottery pick waiting to happen.

5. Solomon Hill, Arizona: Hill is one of the most important players for Arizona. Not only is he going to need to provide veteran leadership for a front line that consists of three freshmen and a sophomore, but his ability to be a playmaker at the small forward spot should help to alleviate the pressure put on Mark Lyons.

6. Ben McLemore, Kansas: McLemore has yet to play a second of college basketball. He spent last season redshirting and wasn’t even allowed to practice with the team until the second semester. But, as Bill Self said, “he can run, he can jump and he can shoot”, and given the rave reviews he’s received from offseason workouts, it’s not out of this world to expect him to fill the go-to scorer void left by Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.

7. Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State: Along with Poythress, Nash is the other guy that could end up looking silly ranked this low. He’s got all the physical tools that you want out of a small forward, and his basketball skills aren’t all that far behind. It’s the mental aspect that Nash needs to get a hold of. He was wildly inconsistent last year, struggled in a leadership role and seemed apathetic at times. With Marcus Smart joining him to help take on some of that responsibility, could Nash end up thriving this year?

8. Adonis Thomas, Memphis: Thomas will be one of the more interesting players to keep an eye on this season. He’s a big-time athlete that excels as a rebounder and a defender, and he’s apparently developed a more refined perimeter game and a deadly jump shot. The Tigers have the talent on their roster, but what they need is someone to become a star. Thomas should be that guy.

9. Branden Dawson, Michigan State: Dawson is some-kind of super-human, as all reports out of East Lansing say that not only is he fully recovered just eight months after having ACL surgery, he may end up being stronger than ever by the time the season starts. That’s terrific news for Tom Izzo, as Dawson — a junkyard dog that rebounds and defends as well as anyone at his position — is the perfect player for his system.

10. Wayne Blackshear, Louisville: Blackshear spent much of last season dealing with a banged up shoulder, but when he finally got healthy, he was a weapon for Rick Pitino’s team. Depending on how the team uses Luke Hancock (who is banged up as well), Blackshear may end up being more of a shooting guard, but his value doesn’t change: he’s a big-time perimeter scorer and shooter that isn’t as out of control as Russ Smith.

The Next 10

11. Reggie Bullock (North Carolina)
12. James Ennis (Long Beach State)
13. Rodney Williams (Minnesota)
14. LaQuinton Ross (Ohio State)
15. Cleveland Melvin (DePaul)
16. Roy Devyn Marble (Iowa)
17. Sam Dekker (Wisconsin)
18. Ryan Broekhoff (Valparaiso)
19. Torrey Craig (USC Upstate)
20. Damion Lee (Drexel)

The Best of the Rest: Tommy Brenton (Stony Brook), Jabari Brown (Missouri), Ryan Evans (Wisconsin), CJ Fair (Syracuse), Grant Gibbs (Creighton), Treveon Graham (VCU), PJ Hairston (North Carolina), Luke Hancock (Louisville), Kareem Jamar (Montana), Bryce Jones (UNLV), Roosevelt Jones (Butler), Shelden McClellan (Texas), Lamar Patterson (Pitt), Glenn Robinson III (Michigan), Will Sheehey (Indiana), Tony Snell (New Mexico), Isaiah Sykes (UCF), Greg Whittington (Georgetown), Scott Wood (North Carolina State), Will Yeguete (Florida)

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

No. 22 Baylor comes from 12 down to beat Creighton

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It was another rough night for the Scott Drew Can’t Coach crowd.

No. 22 Baylor got 15 points apiece from Jo Lual-Acuil and Terry Maston and closed the game on a 37-19 run as they knocked off Creighton, 65-59, in the title game of the Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

King McClure led the way for the Bears with 19 points, picking up the pieces for Manu Lecomte, who struggled to deal with the defense of Khyri Thomas.

Creighton jumped out to a 33-24 lead at the break and extended it to 40-28 with 18 minutes left in the game, but that’s when Baylor turned the game around. A couple of tweaks to the way that they played their zone coupled with the Bluejays missing some shots that they were capable of making led to the comeback. Instead of simply writing another ‘See, I told you Scott Drew can coach’ column, I figured it would make more sense to show exactly what I mean when I say that.

Creighton had a smart, simple game-plan offensively on Tuesday night. Get the ball into the paint, whether it was via dribble penetration or finding one of their big guys near the foul line or at the short corner, and then find a shooter on the perimeter, a cutter going to the rim or, simply, score from 8-10 feet out. That’s the best way to beat a zone, especially a zone that has the amount of length and athleticism that Baylor’s does. Notice in the clip below how extended Baylor’s guards are and, as a result, the space it creates:

Once Baylor got down by 12, their game-plan changed. Instead of extending, their defense became more compact. What is usually something of a 1-1-3 zone turned into more of a 2-3, with the focus seemingly being cutting off penetration. Baylor dared Creighton to let Ronnie Harrell be the guy that beat them, and it worked. The result was that the open threes dried up, and the jumpers that Creighton shot in down the stretch were much more contested than the looks they were getting earlier in the game:

That’s coaching right there.

Game-planning is a part of coaching. Player development is, too, as is recruiting. But making in-game adjustments like that, figuring out how a team is beating you, devising a way to stop them from doing that and getting your players to execute those adjustments is arguably the most important part of being a coach.

Here’s another example of what I mean.

Khyri Thomas might be the best on-ball defender in college basketball, and I don’t say that lightly. He essentially eliminated Manu Lecomte from the game. He is to point guards what Darrelle Revis was to No. 1 receivers. Whoever he is guarding is on Khyri Island.

Lecomte is typically Baylor’s closer, but Drew ran actions that allowed Lecomte to be a facilitator and a decoy, taking Khyri out of the play and taking advantage of matchups he thought his guys could win. That involved running a double-high ball-screen, which confused Harrell and Martin Krampelj defensively a couple of times, and resulted in a high-low action between Maston and Lual-Acuil on a number of possessions down the stretch.

But then there was also this set he drew up, using McClure as the ball-handler in that double-high ball-screen and while putting Lecomte in the same side corner. McClure refused the ball-screen, drove straight at the gap where Thomas was not going to help off Lecomte and got a bucket out of it:

That’s coaching!

And I’m not trying to say McDermott got out-coached here. His game-plan worked. Drew’s adjustment turned out to be just a bit better.

But Creighton also has players that can make the tough shots that they were forced into in the second half. If two more of them go down – if the Bluejays shoot 37.5 percent from the floor instead of 34.4 percent, if they go 7-for-30 from three instead of 5-for-30 – then they probably win this game.

Sometimes that’s how basketball works.

It’s why you always hear coaches refer to it as a ‘make or miss game’.

The larger takeaway from this game should be this: Both Baylor and Creighton are good teams. Both landed good non-conference wins during this event. Both are likely headed to the NCAA tournament.

And both took part in a fun, tactical battle between head coaches on Tuesday night that one of them had to lose.

No. 13 Notre Dame drubs LSU 92-53 to reach Maui title game

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LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — T.J. Gibbs scored 26 points, Matt Farrell added 17 and Notre Dame dominated LSU 92-53 on Tuesday night to reach the Maui Invitational championship game.

The Irish (5-0) expectedly breezed through their opener against Division II Chaminade did the same thing to LSU in their first game against a power program this season.

Notre Dame shot well, shut the Tigers down on defense and were in control from the opening tip in a superb all-around game.

Bonzie Colson had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Irish, who shot 52 percent and hit 15 of 32 from 3-point range.

Next up: A top-of-the-marquee title game against No. 6 Wichita State on Wednesday night.

LSU (3-1) lost starting guard Brandon Sampson to an ankle injury in the game’s opening minute and struggled without one of its top defensive players.

The Tigers had trouble slowing the Irish on defense and labored from the perimeter on offense, hitting 6 of 23 shots from the 3-point arc while shooting 36 percent overall. Duop Reath led LSU with 17 points.

LSU beat Michigan 77-75 in its Maui opener behind the stellar play of Tremont Waters. The talented freshman point guard had 21 points and set up the go-ahead basket with a spectacular over-the-shoulder, no-look assist from his knees.

Notre Dame had a much easier road to the semifinals, dominating Chaminade from the start of an 83-56 rout.

The Tigers had a tough break on their first possession of the semifinals, when Sampson came down on someone’s foot and rolled his left ankle. He had to be helped off the court, leaving LSU without arguably its best defensive player.

The Irish took advantage, scoring at the rim and the 3-point arc during a 15-2 run that put them up 25-10. Farrell had the highlight-reel play of the spurt, bouncing a pass between the long legs of 6-foot-11 Reath to set up Martinas Geben for a dunk.

Notre Dame didn’t let up, hitting seven 3-pointers, 15 of 31 shots overall and holding the Tigers to 1-for-8 shooting from the arc for a 40-24 halftime lead.

The Irish continued to stretch the lead in the second half, using a 6-0 burst midway through to go up 61-35.

THE TAKEAWAY

Notre Dame turned its first game against a power program into a laugher with a strong effort on both ends of the court.

LSU was hurt by the loss of Sampson, but it may not have mattered the way the Irish played.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame plays No. 6 Wichita State in Wednesday’s championship game.

LSU gets Marquette in the third-place game on Wednesday.

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For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Hot shooting leads No. 3 Kansas past Texas Southern, 114-71

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas shot the ball from 3-point range better than it ever has in its illustrious history.

Once the Jayhawks found their rhythm from deep, their offense was virtually impossible to stop. Texas Southern coach Mike Davis was in awe.

“I’ve never seen a team pass the ball and shoot the basketball as well as they do,” Davis said.

Svi Mykhailiuk scored 21 points, Udoka Azubuike added 20 and No. 3 Kansas cruised to a resounding 114-71 victory over Texas Southern on Tuesday night in the Jayhawks’ first game of the Hoophall Miami Invitational.

They got after it early, as with just under 5 minutes remaining in the first half Lagerald Vick hit the team’s seventh 3 of the half — a program record. A similar feat was achieved in the second half, when Devonte’ Graham hit No. 17, the record for 3s in a game.

“It’s super fun,” Graham said. “Being active, sharing the ball, it’s contagious. Just making that extra pass, and when the ball’s going through the hoop like that, it just feeds energy into us.”

Graham, Vick and Marcus Garrett all finished with a double-double for Kansas, as Vick posted 19 points and 10 rebounds, Graham had 17 points and 11 assists, and Garrett logged 13 points and 11 boards.

Texas Southern’s Demontrae Jefferson led all scorers with 24 points. Donte Clark added 19 and had a game-high 14 rebounds as well.

Davis has seen plenty of high-powered offenses run by Bill Self, as the pair used to meet regularly when they coached at Illinois and Indiana, respectively. After watching a performance like this, he has no doubts over his former rival’s future chances.

“I’ve been around for a long time,” Davis said. “If you play basketball like they play basketball, they’ll be cutting the net down in April.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas continues to thrive without freshman Billy Preston, who remains benched as the school investigates a single-car on-campus incident involving him earlier in the month. His absence has left Self with just two big men, but the lack of depth has yet to truly hurt the Jayhawks.

Texas Southern is still searching for its first win after facing a daunting schedule to start the season. Even though the Tigers have yet to find themselves in the win column, games against bigger schools like Kansas will continue to provide invaluable experience regardless of the score.

“It was a great opportunity for us,” Davis said. “We leave tomorrow to go play Clemson on Friday, and this game right here will get us ready for our next game.”

T’ED UP

Azubuike earned a technical foul midway through the first half when he hung on the rim following a thunderous dunk.

“He deserved it,” Self said of the technical. “I told the official — he said ‘I hate calling that,’ I said ‘but you got to call it.’ I mean, that’s good for us … he has a bad habit of doing that, and I was glad they called it because that may end up not costing us where we really need it, in a close game.”

SARCASTIC SELF

While Self agreed that the Jayhawks shot the ball about as well as they possibly could have, he wasn’t overtly enthused by the record, as per usual.

“I couldn’t be happier. I think we should celebrate for a week,” Self said. “My reaction is we made shots. That doesn’t mean anything to me.”

MODEL FOR SUCCESS

“Love the way they play,” Davis said of the Jayhawks. “That’s the way I want my team to play. When we get to January and play in our conference, that’s the way we want to be playing basketball.”

UP NEXT

Kansas will continue Hoophall Miami Invitational play Friday night with another home game against Oakland, which has already dropped its first two games of the tournament.

Texas Southern will once again face an uphill battle for its first victory as it travels to Clemson on Friday.

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For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

No. 12 Cincinnati uses strong start to defeat Richmond 75-48

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GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (AP) — Unlike the previous night, Cincinnati didn’t need a hero on Tuesday night.

Instead, the 12th-ranked Bearcats relied on their defense, smothering Richmond in the first half and cruising into the championship game of the Cayman Islands Classic with a 75-48 win over the Spiders.

Cane Broome led a balanced attack with 13 points and Jacob Evans added 12 for the Bearcats (5-0).

Jarron Cumberland opened the scoring with 3-pointers on consecutive possessions and Evans hit another before the Spiders scored and when Justin Jenifer hit a 3 just beyond the five-minute mark Cincinnati was up 14-4.

The Bearcats hit 8 of 14 3-pointers and shot 54 percent overall to race to a 40-14 lead at the half and Wyoming’s opponent for Wednesday’s championship game was never in doubt. Five different Cincinnati players had six to nine points while forcing the Spiders (1-3) into 13 turnovers and 4-of-18 shooting.

“The first half, we played great defensively and on offense, when we did make the right pass, we found open shooters,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “We try to start the best defensive lineup. We want to focus on things that win games, defense, rebounding, physicality, and guys that play together.”

Jenifer went 3 of 4 from behind the arc, scoring all nine of his points in the first half. Gary Clark, the leader in a hard-fought 73-68 win over Buffalo in the opener on Monday night with 24 points and 14 rebounds, had his eight points — all in the first half — and finished with eight rebounds and seven assists.

Richmond made five 3-pointers and went 12 of 24 from the field but never challenged in the second half.

“Obviously Richmond has a young team,” Cronin said. “I thought Buffalo made us better last night. We were able to jump out to an early lead and put the game away with our defense.

Freshman Jacob Gilyard led the Spiders with 12 points.

BIG PICTURE

Richmond: Gilyard was leading the nation’s true freshmen in playing time, averaging 37.3 minutes a game. He played 32 in the loss. … Grant Golden, a redshirt freshman, had 26 points in a win over UAB in the opener, the most by a Spider freshman in 10 years and with his seven rebounds was the first UR frosh with a 20 and 7 line since 1999. The Bearcats held him to four points and one rebound on Tuesday. … Khwan Fore, Richmond’s leading scorer last year, made his debut after missing the first three games recovering from a stress reaction in his left shin. He went 1 for 1 from the foul line with a rebound and an assist and three fouls. … The Spiders have one senior and five juniors.

Cincinnati: Freshman Sam Martin scored his first points, making a pair of free throws. … The Bearcats had 20 assists on 25 baskets but they also had 20 turnovers, 11 in the second half. But in that first half had a 16-0 advantage in points off turnovers. … With reserves seeing plenty of time, Cincinnati’s bench outscored Richmond’s 38-17, 28-15 in the second half.

NEXT GAME

Richmond will face Louisiana-Lafayette in the third place game Wednesday night.

Cincinnati meets Wyoming in the championship game Wednesday night.

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For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Murphy’s double-double leads Minnesota over Alabama A&M

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jordan Murphy had his fifth straight double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds as No. 14 Minnesota defeated Alabama A&M 100-57 on Tuesday night.

Four other scored in double figures for the Gophers (5-0). Davonte Fitzgerald had 13, Nate Mason scored 12 and Reggie Lynch and Jamir Harris each added 11.

Mohamed Sherif led the Bulldogs (0-4) with 10 points.

The Bulldogs went the first 11 minutes without a two-point field goal, preferring outside shots due to the Gophers’ size advantage. A&M’s first four baskets came from 3-point range, but Minnesota built a 26-12 lead thanks to 12 quick points from Mason.

In the last minute of the first half, reserve big man Fitzgerald threw down a dunk and drained a long jump shot for the Gophers before Murphy beat the buzzer with a step-back jumper to put Minnesota on top 47-25.

Harris, a freshman guard, hit 3-pointers from the same spot in the corner on three consecutive possessions in the second half as Gophers coach Richard Pitino played his reserves almost exclusively for the final 10 minutes of the game.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama A&M: Coming off a 2-27 season, the Bulldogs were picked to finish last in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. They were no match for a Minnesota team expected to contend for a Big Ten title.

Minnesota: The Gophers got what they needed out of this game. Everyone stayed healthy, the reserves got extended playing time, and the starters weren’t overtaxed with back-to-back games coming up this weekend.

UP NEXT

Alabama A&M: Travels to Niagara Falls, New York, for the final rounds of the Barclays Center Classic. The Bulldogs take on Niagara on Friday and will play either Western Carolina or UT-Arlington on Saturday.

Minnesota: Travels to Brooklyn to wrap up the other half of the Barclays Center Classic bracket. The Gophers play UMass on Friday and No. 25 Alabama on Saturday.

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For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25