Burning Questions: Who will be this year’s surprise All-American?

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Real, live college basketball games start on Friday, and with all of our glorious preseason content finally finished, this week we will be providing you with water cooler fodder as we roll through a series of Burning Question. You can read them all right here.

Which player not on one of the NBCSports.com All-American teams is the most likely to become a first-teamer this year?

Phil Pressey, Missouri (Eric Angevine): Pressey showed he could dish and defend at a high level last season in the Big 12. With Kim English matriculated and Michael Dixon in the doghouse, Pressey will have ample opportunity to show he can score, too. I believe he’s up to the task.

Gorgui Dieng, Louisville (Troy Machir): The Louisville center is in the perfect position to excel this season. First and foremost, he has made tremendous improvements in each of his first two seasons, and if healthy, he will continue his upward progression this season. Second, He has players around him that him him the best chance to succeed. Guys like Montrezl Harris, Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock, skilled forwards and wing players, will divert attention away from the big-man, which will allow Dieng to get more high quality looks. Dieng won’t be forced to do too much, which will allow him to excel at his craft. Finally, what real pressure is there on Dieng? He’s not the star and doesn’t have to be. Plus, Pitino does a good job keeping the media out of his player’s heads, so they can remained focused.This season was tailor-made for Gorgui Dieng to recieve All-American praise.

Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State (Daniel Martin): Franklin became a full-time contributor last season and capitalized. Now he has the reins of a team that will fight for the Mountain West title and has the potential to become a household name. He averaged 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last season, including just a shade up 20 points and 10 boards in MWC play.

Nate Wolters, South Dakota State (David Harten): Wolters has every tool that gets a college basketball player recognition. He can score (21.1 ppg), rebound (5.1 rpg), distribute (5.9 apg) and guard (1.7 spg). Problem is, he plays for a Jackrabbits’ team that just made its first trip to the NCAA Tournament and plays in the Summit League. His game translates against better teams — need I remind you how hard he clowned Washington last season? — and he’s proven countless times he can play on the big stages (19 points, 4 boards, 4 assists and 3 steals against Baylor in the NCAA Tournament last season). He could be on everyone’s All-American list by season’s end.

Andre Roberson, Colorado (Raphielle Johnson): Andre played the four for the Buffaloes last season, and while that may be the same in 2012-13 he’ll get to expand his game some. 11.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season, and with a better jump shot I’d expect the scoring average to increase. And there may be some motivation to be derived from the Pac-12 media picking Colorado to finish sixth in the conference this season. My money’s on Roberson.

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press
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With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.