There’s no denying that not only is there not a dominant team in college basketball but also that No. 9 Syracuse was a team capable of getting to Atlanta even without senior forward James Southerland.
But his return after missing six games for academic reasons makes the Orange a team capable of winning not only the Big East but also a national title.
Southerland shot just 4-of-10 from the field and scored 13 points in Syracuse’s 77-58 win over St. John’s but his return gives the Orange a consistent perimeter threat, something they lacked while he was sidelined.
Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair scored 17 points apiece to lead the Orange, with Carter-Williams also dishing out eight assists and Fair grabbing nine rebounds. St. John’s, who played without head coach Steve Lavin due to the passing of his father, was led offensively by freshman JaKarr Sampson (21 points).
Southerland’s return gives Syracuse four players who can get them double figures consistently, with Carter-Williams, Fair and senior guard Brandon Triche being the others. And the task of scoring becomes “easier” for Syracuse now that their best perimeter shooter is back on the floor, as Southerland’s presence also opens the floor for Carter-Williams to set teammates up for quality looks.
Twenty of Syracuse’s 29 field goal were of the assisted variety, as the Orange found the gaps in the Red Storm zone at will and shot 53.7% from the field and 10-of-22 from three. In the six games Southerland missed Syracuse averaged 11.2 assists per game, with a high of 16 in their 63-47 win over No. 25 Notre Dame last Monday, and shot 41.8% from the field.
There isn’t a national title contender this season that doesn’t have a flaw and the same can be said for Syracuse, who will need more from big men Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita as they approach the stretch run (Keita played well on Sunday, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds).
But there should be little doubt that the return of James Southerland makes Syracuse a contender to win the national title.
Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.
Purdue will once again be rolling out a formidable frontcourt in the 2016-17 season.
Boilermaker big man Caleb Swanigan is withdrawing from the NBA Draft to return to West Lafayette for his sophomore season, the school announced Wednesday.
“The NBA is right there and always will be,” Swanigan said in the school’s press release, “but you always have to have patience and do what’s best for you.”
Purdue is losing 7-foot senior A.J. Hammons, but will be once again teaming Swanigan with Isaac Haas (7-2) and Vince Edwards (6-8) that will allow them to roll out a supersized lineup that is sure to be a difficult one to face off against.
The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan, who likely would have landed as a second-round pick, averaged 10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists and was a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award for the country’s top freshman.
“We are excited that (Swanigan) has withdrawn from the NBA Draft and will return to Purdue,” head coach said Matt Painter in a statement released by the school. “He has the potential to make a huge jump from his freshman season and will be a big part of what we do next year. He received great experience going through this process and will use the feedback he received to make him a more diverse player.”
Purdue is probably a rung down from Michigan State and Wisconsin at the top of the league, but the return of Swanigan pulls them closer to competing at the top of the league next season.
Nikola Jovanovic’s college career has come to a close.
The USC center will not withdraw his name from NBA Draft consideration by Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m., a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Jovanovic, a 6-foot-11 Serbian, averaged 12.3 points and 7.0 boards as a junior with the Trojans.
Jovanovic is not expected to be drafted, which means that Andy Enfield’s club will be losing two players to the professional ranks with eligibility to spare that likely won’t end up on an NBA roster next season. Julian Jacobs, who averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 boards, signed with an agent back in April.
The Trojans were a top 25 team last season despite many considering them to still be “a year away”. But with two starters departing, the Trojans will be a borderline preseason top 25 team as opposed to a top 15 team.
For the second time this season and just the sixth time in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, the Wildcats are losing a player to transfer.
Marcus Lee announced on Wednesday that he will be withdrawing from the NBA Draft, but the 6-foot-9 forward will not be returning to Kentucky. He will be transferring out of the program to a new school.
“I want to thank the University of Kentucky, the basketball staff and the Big Blue Nation for supporting me over the years,” Lee said. “I’m sorry it took me so long to come to this decision, but I’m trying to do what’s right for me and my family. I’ll always think fondly of my time at Kentucky.”
Lee averaged 6.4 points and 6.0 boards this season, seeing his first major minutes as a member of the Wildcats. But he seemed destined for a bench role if he had opted to return to Kentucky this season as John Calipari has landed a recruiting class that includes five-star freshmen Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.
The tough part?
It does not appear that Lee will be able to finish his degree and be eligible to play immediately next season. He’ll have to sit a year at whatever school he opts to transfer to.
“Marcus Lee informed us today that he is pulling his name out of the draft but has decided he is going to transfer to a school out west to be closer to his family,” head coach John Calipari said. “We talked it through together and discussed the team next season, which he said had no bearing on his decision. I also told him he was a semester away from graduating. With that said, he was still adamant that, after the combine experience, a year off and regrouping would be the best thing. As always I support my players and their decisions.”
Lee joins Charles Matthews as members of last year’s Wildcats that are transferring out of the program. Darnell Dodson (Southern Miss), Stacey Poole (Georgia Tech) , Ryan Harrow (Georgia State) and Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga) are the other four players that have transferred.
Isaiah Briscoe announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season.
The 6-foot-3 guard had one of the more difficult decisions to make for players in this year’s draft class. On the one hand, there was a very real chance that he would go through this draft without getting picked. He was a role-playing guard on last year’s team that isn’t a point guard, isn’t big enough to be a two-guard and was a total liability shooting the ball.
But he’s returning to a team that is as loaded as the group that won their first 38 games two years ago, particularly in the back court. He’ll be playing behind De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk who both play essentially the same role that Briscoe does: playmaking guards that thrive with the ball in their hands. And since Briscoe can’t shoot, he may not be the best option at the three, where Derek Willis will likely see minutes.
In other words, Briscoe returning to school is essentially a two-year decision.
Kentucky now awaits an announcement from Marcus Lee on whether or not he will be returning to school.
James Blackmon Jr. will be returning to Indiana for his junior season, the school announced on Wednesday morning.
Blackmon missed the final 22 games of his sophomore season following surgery on his knee in December. As a freshman, Blackmon averaged 15.8 points and shot 46 percent from beyond the arc.
Indiana now awaits word on the decision that will be made by Troy Williams. A junior swingman, Williams has a shot to be an early second round pick if he opts to stay in the draft. There is a report from the Indy Star that he will keep his name in the draft, but the program has yet to confirm that news.
Losing Williams would hurt, but it’s a loss that Indiana can overcome. The emergence of O.G. Anunoby as a versatile defender means that the Hoosiers have a guy that can be a defensive stopper and can allow them to play small and fast. Anunoby also has not proven to be prone to bouts of poor decision-making, which arguably may make him a better fit.