Oklahoma State claimed the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title with a surprisingly easy 76-56 win over No. 6 NC State, riding the young legs of freshman Marcus Smart and sophomore LeBryan Nash to a huge upset.
Smart filled the stat sheet with 20 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals and 4 blocks. Nash led the scoring with 23 points to go with 8 boards. The height problem persisted for Oklahoma State. Kamari Murphy and Philip Jurick combined for just seven front-line points, but Murphy pulled down a crucial 10 boards.
The Wolfpack saw positive signs from a freshman as well. Rodney Purvis poured in 15, though he found it difficult to hide his frustration as the clock drew down on a twenty-point loss. T.J. Warren came off the bench for 14, and was the only other NC State player in double figures.
The stellar offensive play of OSU’s tyros disguises the true bellweather of Ford’s team – an energetic, stingy, disciplined defense that held the Wolfpack to 34% shooting from the floor. And Ford’s recruiting has finally created a team where a jump-shooting prodigy like Phil Forte can come off the bench blazing for 17 points, instead of being a primary option, like the diminutive Keiton Page was last season.
Travis Ford’s team has been knocking on the door for a couple of years, now, punching above their weight in some huge Big 12 upsets. Oklahoma State’s win bodes well for the league, where Kansas, Baylor and Texas have been carrying the torch for a league that splintered badly during the height of realignment.
The Cowboys face an eight-game slate of very winnable games before clashing with No. 19 Gonzaga on New Year’s Eve. Then comes league play.
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.