College Basketball’s Dream Team: The Mid-Season Version

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Over the summer, Raphielle Johnson and I put together a college basketball dream team. But that was before the season started and before we got a chance to see just how good some of the freshmen are and just how much certain players improved — or didn’t improve — during the offseason.

With that in mind, seeing as we’re right around the midway point of the season, here is our new and improved college basketball dream team.

A couple of notes before you dive in: 

– We built this team on the premise that Rick Pitino will still be the head coach. That means we wanted athletes, players that could defend, shooters, and some lineup versatility. 

– This isn’t necessarily meant to be an all-american team. Some of our picks were made with the idea of building a “team”. For example, we both wanted Marshall Henderson here. But with Jamaal Franklin and Russ Smith already on the roster, Henderson got cut.

– We want feedback. Tell us in the comments what you think we got wrong, but don’t simply say “Player X should be on there”. Let us know who should have gotten cut instead.

PG Trey Burke, Michigan: Burke is the perfect fit for us offensively. He’s a distributor at the point that can create for the scorers that will join him on the perimeter. But he’s also capable of taking over a game. If Ohio State has done anything this season, they have proven that Burke is the most valuable player in the country.

SG Victor Oladipo, Indiana: Frankly he’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and this team is going to need a perimeter stopper. Add to that the fact that he’s improved offensively in each of his season at Indiana and this is a pretty easy choice to make.

SF Ben McLemore, Kansas: He’s a big, athletic guard that can defend, rebound and bury an open three. His demeanor and willingness to allow the game to come to him makes him a perfect fit on this team.

PF Doug McDermott, Creighton: Having a versatile scorer at the four is something you need to be successful in international play (if that’s where we’re taking this group). Enter McDermott, who’s shooting 56.8% from the field and 50.7% from beyond the arc, and he’s a good rebounder as well.

C Jeff Withey, Kansas: We wanted to go with defense and rebounding in the middle, and no one is as good of a defender at the rim as Withey.

Bench:

PG Phil Pressey, Missouri: Pressey is the best distributor in the country and a terrific on-ball defender. Simply the perfect fit for this system.

SG Russ Smith, Louisville: “Russdiculous” has calmed down some this season and in turn has become a better player. Still averaging 18.9 points per game, Smith is shooting 42% from the field and is also averaging 2.3 steals per game. Guards off the bench should be able to supply energy and be a nuisance for 94 feet defensively. Russ can do that.

SG Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Smart can do a little bit of everything: he’s a point guard in a shooting guard’s body that can defend multiple positions. He’s also a leader and a winner, and more importantly, a great teammate. He’s a perfect fit for this kind of team.

SF Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State: He’s not the best perimeter shooter (26.9% 3PT) but that’s fine given what else Franklin can do offensively. He’s a bit of a volume shooter so he’ll help more off the bench in that role, and he’s also averaging 10.1 rebounds per game to go along with the 18.4 ppg.

PF Anthony Bennett, UNLV: With his build and athletic ability Bennett can be a game changer for this team off the bench. He’s got range out to the three-point line but perimeter shooting won’t be needed in this role; hit the boards, attack the rim and be an athletic mismatch for whoever opponents place in front of him on both ends of the floor.

C Mason Plumlee, Duke: At the end of November Plumlee was the frontrunner for national Player of the Year honors in many circles. Still on track to be a first team All-American, the senior has the strength and athleticism needed to be productive on both ends of the floor.

C Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: Withey may be the best defensive presence around the rim, but Noel isn’t all that far behind him, and he’s much more versatile of a defender.

Those who didn’t make it this time around: Well, four of the five starters from the original team back in December didn’t make it this time around. Moser’s issue was injury-related, as the dislocated elbow shelved him for a couple weeks and he’s still working his way back to being the versatile offensive threat who took the Mountain West by storm last season. Zeller’s seen a lot more attention from opponents this season, but with the perimeter scorers on this team (not to mention McDermott) we’re leaning a little more towards a defender in the middle. Craft’s a great defender at the point but in Burke and Pressey this new group has a point who can score in addition to getting teammates involved (Burke) and arguably the best distributor in the game (Pressey). As for Canaan, he’s been very good for the Racers (they’ve been ignored some nationally) but we can go a bit bigger at the two with one of the best defenders around in Oladipo.

As for the reserves from that December group, McCollum suffered a broken foot and Tony Mitchell hasn’t performed as well as expected for the Mean Green. As for that Pac-12 trio, Hill’s been good but we can get more scoring from players such as Franklin and Bennett without losing much in the way of versatility and there’s enough shooting to make up for Crabbe’s omission. Muhammad? With Franklin and Smith on this team there are only so many volume shooters a team can afford, so he misses out this time around.

Thursday’s Three Things To Know: Drexel’s historic comeback, Arizona survives, Houston doesn’t

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1. DREXEL COMPLETED THE BIGGEST COMEBACK IN DIVISION I HISTORY

Drexel trailed Delaware 53-19 late in the first half on Thursday night.

They won 85-83.

Both of those things are 100 percent true and 100 percent happened.

2. ARIZONA WON WITHOUT ALLONZO TRIER … BARELY

No. 14 Arizona was forced to play without Allonzo Trier on Thursday night at Oregon State after Trier tested positive for a banned substance again. The Wildcats led by 12 points in the first half, but Wayne Tinkle’s club slowly but surely chipped away at the lead. They were ahead with less than a minute left with OSU missed two wide-open threes on the same possession before a pair of Rawle Alkins free throws forced overtime.

Alkins — who finished with 16 points on the night — took over in the extra frame, but if there is anything that we learned in the 45 minutes that Arizona played without Trier available on Thursday, it’s that they are going to struggle to win games if they do not have their second-leading scorer available.

3. TUBBY SMITH FINALLY BEAT A RANKED TEAM

Tubby Smith has been crushed throughout his tenure with Memphis, and deservedly so. The Tigers are not selling tickets and are not competing at a level that is expected of that program in the post-John Calipari era. That said, they aren’t terrible. On Thursday night, Memphis beat No. 23 Houston in FedEd Forum — Smith’s first win over a ranked opponent since he took over the job — to alleviate some of the heat that has been directed his way this season.

Houston, on the other hand, is probably pretty safe when it comes to inclusion into the NCAA tournament at this point, but they sure have had a weird seven days. It started with a win over Cincinnati, then turned into a 21-point win at Temple and concluded with a loss to Memphis. Such is life in the AAC, I guess.

Ford leads No. 22 Saint Mary’s past Pepperdine, 75-61

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MORAGA, Calif. (AP) — Jordan Ford had 18 points and a career-high 10 rebounds, and No. 22 Saint Mary’s rolled to a 75-61 victory over Pepperdine on Thursday night.

Calvin Hermanson scored 14 points and Tanner Krebs added 12 for the Gaels (26-4, 15-2 West Coast Conference). Jock Landale scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds.

Ford shot 7 for 11 from the field and 4 for 6 from 3-point range and fell two points short of tying his career scoring high.

Saint Mary’s remained one game behind Gonzaga (26-4, 16-1), a 77-72 winner at San Diego, in the WCC with one regular-season game to play. The Gaels can earn a share of the WCC regular-season title with a victory at home against Santa Clara and a Gonzaga loss at BYU on Saturday.

Saint Mary’s point guard Emmett Naar, who injured his left ankle late in the first half against Portland on Saturday, started and had three points and six assists in 14 minutes, most of those in the first half.

Trae Berhow and Knox Hellums each scored 13 points for Pepperdine (4-25, 1-16).

Ford had 14 points and six rebounds in the first half, when Saint Mary’s built a 46-26 lead.

Pepperdine guard Eric Cooper Jr., who averages 13.2 points, did not make the trip because of a shoulder injury. Udenyi Amadi started in his place.

BIG PICTURE

Pepperdine: The Waves lost their eighth straight game and are locked into sole possession of last place in the WCC. Pepperdine will be the No. 10 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels won their second straight after losing back-to-back games to Gonzaga on Feb. 10 and San Francisco on Feb. 15. Saint Mary’s had won a school-record 19 straight games before falling to Gonzaga.

UP NEXT

Pepperdine hosts Portland on Saturday in its WCC regular-season finale. The Waves fell 85-76 in overtime at Portland on Feb. 1.

Saint Mary’s hosts Santa Clara on Saturday in its final WCC regular-season game. The Gaels beat the Broncos 81-57 on Jan. 11 at Santa Clara.

Thornton, Rivers lead Memphis past No. 23 Houston

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Jimario Rivers and Raynere Thornton each scored 21 points, helping Memphis beat No. 23 Houston 91-85 on Thursday night.

Rivers also grabbed nine rebounds and Thornton made four 3-pointers as Memphis (17-11, 8-7 American Athletic Conference) earned its third straight victory.

Rob Gray had 30 points and seven assists for Houston (21-6, 11-4), which entered the Top 25 this week for the first time this season. Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis Jr. each scored 15 points.

The Cougars led 43-37 at halftime, but they shot 32.3 percent from the field in the second half. The Tigers made 54 percent of their shots while rallying for the victory.

Memphis went ahead to stay with a 22-8 surge that made it 76-68 on Mike Parks Jr.’s basket with 6:28 remaining. The Tigers closed it out at the line, making 29 of 36 attempts for the game.

Houston had won five in a row. It went 18 of 20 at the line.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: The Cougars, one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the conference, went 4 for 15 from beyond the arc in the second half. They also surrendered their most points this season.

Memphis: Leading scorer Jeremiah Martin left in the first half with a lower body injury. Thornton picked up the scoring after the break, scoring 19 points in the second half.

UP NEXT

Houston: Entertains East Carolina on Sunday.

Memphis: Travels to UConn on Sunday

No. 6 Gonzaga rallies to beat San Diego, 77-72

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Killian Tillie scored 17 points, Rui Hachimura added 16 and No. 6 Gonzaga beat San Diego 77-72 on Thursday night to clinch at least a share of the West Coast Conference title.

The Bulldogs (26-4, 16-1 WCC) defeated the Toreros (17-12, 8-9) for the eighth straight game and for the 19th time in their last 20 meetings.

Olin Cater III led San Diego with 21 points.

After trailing at halftime and falling behind by eight points in the second half, the Bulldogs didn’t seize the lead until midway through the second half, when Tillie’s 3-pointer made it 52-51.

It was a back-and-forth affair from there, with the Toreros relying on their stingy defense to slow the up-tempo Bulldogs. But Gonzaga had too much firepower and was helped by four straight free throws from Hachimura when taking the lead for good with four minutes remaining.

Gonzaga demolished San Diego in last year’s visit by 58 points. The Bulldogs built an early six-point lead in this one but San Diego bounced back, tying the score at 27 with five minutes left on the first of three straight 3-point baskets by Carter. When he hit his second one, San Diego had a three-point advantage, its first edge since the game’s opening bucket.

Tyler Williams’ mid-range jumper gave San Diego a 35-30 lead and it was 37-34 at halftime. San Diego finished the first 20 minutes by converting 4 of 7 3-point shots.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: When Gonzaga fell behind early in the game, it was the first time it had trailed in four games. … The Bulldogs have earned at least a share of the WCC title in 17 of the past 18 seasons and 18 of the last 20. … Gonzaga is the only team in the nation with seven players to score at least 20 points in a game this season.

University of San Diego: The highest-ranked team the Toreros have beaten is No. 14 UCLA in the 2002-03 season. … Forward Cameron Neubauer was honored before the game on senior night.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga is at BYU on Saturday night.

San Diego is at San Francisco on Saturday night.

Carsen Edwards scores 40 points, No. 9 Purdue beats Illinois 93-86

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Carsen Edwards scored career-high 40 points and Dakota Mathias added 18 to help No. 9 Purdue outlast Illinois in a 93-86 victory on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers were without their second-leading scorer Vincent Edwards but had no problem scoring.

Purdue shot 58.3 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Edwards and Mathias each had four from behind the arc.

There were eight lead changes in the first half, highlighted by two big runs. With just under 10 minutes left Edwards stole the ball and went down for a huge dunk to spark a 17-6 run for the Boilermakers. The Illini responded with a 10-3 run to close out the half trailing 43-38.

Illinois stayed within striking distance the rest of the game, but ultimately Purdue’s size and Edwards scoring were too much. The sophomore scored 25 of his points in the second half, including a monstrous dunk on Trent Frazier with just under seven minutes to play.

The Boilermakers also outrebounded the Illini 33-20.

Leron Black led Illinois with 28 points, notching his fourth-consecutive 20-point game.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois continues to struggle in close games. The Illini have now lost 10 games this season by single digits.

After losing three straight games, Purdue has reestablished itself in the Big Ten with two close victories over Penn State and Illinois. The Boilermakers are one win away from tying the second most victories in school history.