Properly evaluating Marcus Smart

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If you missed it, there interwebs has played host to an entertaining discussion about Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart over the last day or two.

It started when John Gasaway ranked the freshmen and slotted Smart at 14th, which, according to Mike DeCourcy, is borderline certifiable, as he wrote, “People, Marcus Smart has been the best college player in the nation to this point”. Gasaway fired back, saying, essentially, that he had Smart that low for two reasons: 1) he’s not shooting the ball well for a player whose role is that important, and 2) he can and will play better before the season is out.

Frankly, I don’t think either of them are right as of right now.

I understand Gasaway’s point, but calling Smart the 14th best freshman in the country right now is ludicrous. I’d have Smart somewhere in the top three, along with Anthony Bennett of UNLV and Jordan Adams of UCLA. If you want to slide him down to sixth — behind Nik Stauskas, Ben McLemore and Semaj Christon — because you hate the fact that he’s shooting 45.3% from two and 20.6% from beyond the arc while shooting 23.9% of the possessions that he’s on the floor — or because he’s averaging 3.4 turnovers — than I’ll disagree with you, but at least I’ll understand where you’re coming from.

But you can’t have Smart as the 14th best freshmen in the country, just like you can’t call Smart the best college basketball player in the country to this point in the season.

Because that award belongs to Mason Plumlee, and it’s really not close.

Plumlee has finally turned all of his potential into production, averaging 19.2 points, 11.4 boards and 1.7 blocks while shooting 61.1% from the floor and 73.1% from the free throw line. He’s become Duke’s anchor on both ends of the floor, turning them into a team that lost to a No. 15 seed in the opening round of the 2012 NCAA tournament into one of the two best teams in the country. And Plumlee has posted these numbers while Duke has beaten Kentucky, Minnesota, VCU, Louisville, Ohio State and Temple.

Smart has changed the culture of that Oklahoma State team. He’s taken over a leadership role and gotten the Pokes through a pair of season-ending injuries. It’s not a coincidence that Le’Bryan Nash is starting to play up to his potential this season or that Oklahoma State is tougher on the defensive end of the floor. But Smart has led Oklahoma State to wins over Akron, Tennessee, NC State and South Florida and a loss at Virginia Tech.

Speaking of Virginia Tech, I also think I would rank Erick Green — the point guard that went for 28 points in the Hokie’s win over Smart’s squad — over him. Green is averaging 24.8 points and 5.0 assists while turning the ball over just 1.8 times per game while leading Tech to an 8-1 start that, quite literally, no one saw coming. Michael Carter-Williams, Doug McDermott, Jeff Withey and Trey Burke are all guys that deserve heavy consideration for the title “best player in college basketball this season”.

Smart’s been great.

No one is saying otherwise.

He’s an all-american as of now.

But I don’t think he’s the Player of the Year after the first month of the season.

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

Former Texas center James Banks III transfers to Georgia Tech

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After playing sparingly in two seasons at Texas, 6-foot-10 center James Banks III made the decision to transfer. Tuesday night Banks announced his next stop, with the Decatur, Georgia native committing to Georgia Tech.

After sitting out the 2018-19 season per NCAA transfer rules, Banks will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

In 46 total games at Texas, Banks averaged 1.7 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 10.7 minutes per game. As a freshman Banks appeared in 32 games and averaged 12.4 minutes per appearance, contributing 1.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. With the additions of Mohamed Bamba and Jericho Sims, Banks’ playing time decreased in 2017-18, as he appeared in 14 games and averaged 1.6 points and 1.7 rebounds in 6.8 minutes per game.

Georgia Tech currently has four scholarship front court players for the 2018-19 season, with one being rising redshirt senior forward Abdoulaye Gueye. Rising redshirt junior Sylvester Ogbonda and rising sophomores Evan Cole and Moses Wright will have eligibility remaining when Banks becomes available to compete at the start of the 2019-20 season.

Villanova basketball team snaps photo with Meek Mill prior to 76ers game

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Tuesday’s Game 5 between the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers was a big one for both teams, as the visiting Heat were looking to stave off elimination and the 76ers were one win away from their first playoff series victory in six years.

What added to the atmosphere at Wells Fargo Center was the release of hip hop artist Meek Mill, who due to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling was released from prison. Among those also in attendance were the reigning national champion Villanova Wildcats, who along with comedian Kevin Hart, Meek Mill and the artist’s lawyers took a photo prior to the game.

Villanova was originally scheduled to handle the pregame ringing of the replica Liberty Bell, but they were bumped due to Meek Mill’s release.

City prosecutors were of the belief that Meek Mill, who had been imprisoned without bail since November, was entitled to a new trial after being found guilty of a probation violation stemming from a conviction handed down in 2009. This was a factor in the Supreme Court’s decision to grant Meek Mill, who rang the bell prior to the start of Tuesday’s game, his freedom.

Meek Mill received a groundswell of support throughout his incarceration from members of the 76ers and Super Bowl champion Eagles and other public figures, including 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Ohio State lands grad transfer Keyshawn Woods

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With three of the team’s top five scorers from this season, led by Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop, moving on Ohio State entered the offseason in need of players who could potentially have an immediate impact in 2018-19.

Tuesday evening the Buckeyes picked up a commitment from a grad transfer, as former Wake Forest guard Keyshawn Woods announced that he will play his final season at Ohio State.

Woods appeared in 28 games for the Demon Deacons in 2017-18, averaging 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 25.7 minutes per game. The 6-foot-3 guard was used primarily as a reserve this past season, making just five starts for Wake Forest. Woods began his collegiate career at Charlotte, playing the 2014-15 season there before transferring to Wake Forest.

During the 2016-17 season, the first in which he was eligible to play at Wake Forest, Woods started 22 of the 33 games he played in and averaged 12.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Woods shot 49.5 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from three during that campaign, and the hope in Columbus is that he can get back to that level in his lone season as a Buckeye.

Ohio State’s best returnee on the perimeter next season will be rising junior C.J. Jackson, who averaged 12.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game as a sophomore. Ohio State also adds a talented freshman class that includes guards Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad. Florida State transfer C.J. Walker will have two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the upcoming campaign per NCAA transfer rules.

Memphis to recruit in style with new souped-up van

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Traveling during live recruiting periods isn’t the most enjoyable process for college basketball coaches, with many having to work their way through airports and car rental lines in order to keep tabs on players they’re recruiting. For the programs at the top of the sport a private plane may be available, which certainly helps.

In the case of Penny Hardaway’s Memphis program, the coaching staff will be hitting the road in style as he showed off a new, souped-up van via his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon.

Notice the “One Cent” logo in the headrests, making it clear whose van it is and what Hardaway’s accomplished in the game of basketball as a player. For those too young to be intimately familiar with his playing career, Hardaway’s work with the Bluff City Legends (named Team Penny when he was in charge) on the Nike EYBL circuit and at Memphis East HS will likely register.

Since Hardaway’s hiring he and his staff, which includes assistants Tony Madlock and two-time NBA champion Mike Miller, have made Memphis a player on the recruiting trail. Will the van reel in top prospects? Maybe, maybe not. But there’s no denying the fact that Hardaway and his staff have already managed to connect in a way that the prior coaching staff was unable to.

Now we wait for the anonymous complaint from another athletic department to the NCAA about Hardaway and Memphis having this van, because that’s generally the way in which these things work.

NABC sends out talking points ahead of Rice Commission announcement

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Wednesday morning the NCAA will announced the recommendations of the Rice Commission, which is headed by former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The commission was formed in the aftermath of the FBI’s September arrest of ten individuals in connection with an investigation into corruption and bribes in college basketball recruiting back, with the stated goal being to introduce reforms that would “clean up” the sport.

NBC Sports obtained an email the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) sent out to its members in preparation for Wednesday’s announcement. In the email, the NABC provided “talking points” while also encouraging coaches to support the Rice Commission’s findings — whether they agree with them or not.

“In short, it is imperative that the Commission’s recommendations be met with unequivocal support from each of us. The NABC Board of Directors affirmed the necessity of this unified response on a conference call earlier today,” the statement sent out by the NABC read.

The key talking points are:

  • Change was necessary, and we knew change was coming. As coaches on the front lines, we are uniquely positioned to offer valuable insight as the Commission’s recommendations progress through the legislative process;
  • As coaches, we are committed to working with the NCAA in evaluating the recommendations and will provide appropriate input as legislation is drafted;
  • We are appreciative of the Commission’s efforts to address necessary change, and for welcoming the input of the NABC.

The Rice Commission’s recommendations are highly anticipated in college basketball circles, and it remains to be seen just how quickly the NCAA would go about implementing them. One topic that’s bound to be discussed is the “one and done” player, but it once again must be noted that this is something controlled by the NBA and its Players Association (via the collective bargaining agreement). There’s also the connection with shoe companies, which became an even bigger point of conversation in the aftermath of the FBI arrest.

Hearing what coaches have to say about the Rice Commission’s findings would have been interesting. But with the NABC looking to present a unified front, there may not be much to take from what the coaches say in the aftermath of Wednesday’s announcement.