Beware the guards of March: twenty deadly backcourt heroes

5 Comments

Basketball may be a big man’s game, but college basketball is dominated by the teams who land the best ball-handlers, slashers and long-range shooters. Want to get to the Final Four? You have to have one or two elite guards. There are so many who will take the stage before the weekend comes, and I want you to know them all.

Numbers 1-8. Tom Petty Rob Dauster and the Heartbreakers: Eight of the most dangerous guards in the game were profiled by my colleague yesterday. Trey Burke, Seth Curry, Matthew Dellavedova, Kerron Johnson, Shane Larkin, Marcus Smart, Chase Tapley and Khalif Wyatt are known quantities, and I can’t give them any stronger daps than Mr. Dauster already has. If you watched Tuesday night’s games in Dayton, you got a preview of Dellavedova’s shooting stroke, as the Aussie with the distinctive mouthpiece went off for 22 points to earn his team a date with Memphis in the real first round.

9. Ben McLemore, Kansas: The redshirt freshman from St. Louis has been a crucial piece for the Jayhawks, nailing a buzzer-beater to keep his team alive against Iowa State in the regular season, and showing an ability to throw down monster dunks during game action. It’s his shooting stroke that promises to stand out in March – he sends television announcers into raptures every time he goes up for a jumper. Some are still holding out hope for injured Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel to be the NBA’s top pick this summer, but others lean toward smooth-as-silk McLemore.

10. Russ Smith, Louisville: It’s tough not to get giddy when a Louisville game is on the slate, because you know you’re about to watch a veritable force of nature. Smith is speedy, so he’s had a race horse named after him by his coach. Smith is an excellent scorer who also occasionally takes mental vacations (sometimes both on the same play), which has earned him the sobriquet Russdiculous. He’s one of the main reasons the Cards are the No. 1 overall seed, and favorites to cut down the nets in Atlanta.

11. Aaron Craft, Ohio State: Craft is so crucial to the Buckeyes, but he doesn’t always do it with scoring. Yes, he put 20 points on Michigan State in the Big Ten semifinals, and it’s nice to know he has that gear when it’s needed, but that’s not really his game. Craft is a facilitator who averages 4.6 assists per game, but more than that, he’s the best on-ball defender in the game right now. Woe to any opponent who hopes to dazzle pro scouts on a night when he lines up across from Aaron Craft. Which brings me to…

12. Lamont ‘Momo’ Jones, Iona: The nation’s third-leading scorer behind Erick Green and Creighton big man Doug McDermott, Momo may be best remembered for his two years at Arizona, which ended in an Elite Eight run two years ago. Momo transferred to be closer to his family in Harlem, which was Iona’s gain. Momo’s deft passing is overshadowed by his gunnery, but he’s good at dropping dimes as well. Momo vs. Craft is one of my must-see opening round matchups.

13. Victor Oladipo, Indiana: I could almost feel Hoosier fans getting edgier and edgier as they read the names of other guards at the top of this page. No, I haven’t forgotten Mr. Oladipo. How could I? The 6’5″ junior was a revelation for the top-seeded Hoosiers this season, and if he hadn’t played in the same league as Michigan’s Burke, he would have garnered even more plaudits. The numbers say it all: Oladipo averaged 13.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game this season. His deep shooting improved dramatically, going from 20 percent last season to 44 percent this year. When opponents double-team Cody Zeller in the post, Victor Oladipo is the man who makes them pay.

14. Rotnei Clarke, Butler: Clarke is an Arkansas transfer who will only play this one season at Butler, but what a season it has been. Clarke hit a crazy one-handed shot in Hawaii in November, and he’s been Butler’s leading scorer all season long, averaging 16.7 points per game. Clarke has been somewhat mis-cast as a distributor for the Bulldogs – imagine what he could do if he had an elite point guard getting him the ball?

15. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA: You may have wondered what the Free Shabazz Muhammad movement was all about when the freshman’s debut was delayed by the NCAA. It’s about this. UCLA is relevant in March again, and Muhammad is the biggest reason. Kudos also go to his backcourt mate Larry Drew II, but Muhammad is the face of the program right now, and likely to go high in the NBA draft in a few months.

16: Phil Pressey, Missouri: “Flip” led the SEC in passing this season, averaging 7.1 points per game. His nickname gets a little too on-the-nose when it comes time for him to shoot the ball, but he’s perfectly capable of hitting some daggers as well. He’ll have his hands full with Colorado State’s rugged defense in the Tigers’ first game, but his ability to involve his teammates will be the key to winning.

17: Ian Clark, Belmont: We talked about Kerron Johnson above, and it’s a measure of how dangerous Belmont can be that we felt the need to mention Clark as well. Clark averages 18.1 points and 3.3 assists per game, and the senior from Memphis is a constant threat to poke away a steal or two from an unwary opponent. With their dual engines in the backcourt, Belmont could easily be a Sweet Sixteen team.

18: Derrick Marks, Boise State: If you’re getting anxious, you can watch Marks tonight, as his Broncos take on Ramon Galloway and the La Salle Explorers in Dayton at 9 pm on tru TV. Marks plays his biggest in big games. He dropped 35 points on Creighton, earning a win that probably tipped the scales when the selection committee put BSU in the Dance. He also hung 27 on New Mexico, 38 on Colorado State and 27 on San Diego State in Mountain West play.

source: AP
Nate Wolters can even play without pants. (AP)

19: Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse: At 6’6″, MCW is so big it’s easy to forget he’s a guard. But his 7.7 assists per game in the rugged Big East render the distinction moot. He can also throw down an eye-opening dunk when the opportunity presents itself, and is a defensive force for the Orange as well, averaging 2.7 steals per contest.

20: Nate Wolters, South Dakota State: No, I haven’t forgotten Wolters. Neither have Michigan’s coaches, who are no doubt wide-eyed and suffering from the caffeine shakes as they try to figure out how to keep the Jackrabbit stud from dousing their title quest on the first day. Wolters can do it all: He’s averaging 22.7 points per game and is capable of scoring 30 on any given night. He rebounds, dishes, defends and hits the three-pointer at a roughly 40 percent clip. And if you put him on the line, he’ll sink you there, too. He’s an 81 percenter on the freebies. If you want to sound smart around the water cooler this week, get to know Wolters.

The killer part of this is that I just gave you twenty guards to keep an eye on, and I still feel reasonably certain that someone not on this list will distinguish himself on the national stage before it’s all said and done. That’s how good this year’s crop of guards is. Think I left someone out? Let me have it in the comments.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Creighton’s Khyri Thomas dunks on 2 Butler defenders

William Mancebo/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Creighton did not get off to the best of starts Tuesday night, trailing by as many as 20 points with Butler making eight of its first 12 three-pointers.

Junior guard Khyri Thomas did his best to provide a spark, driving the lane and then dunking on two Butler defenders.

Thomas’ dunk sparked a 12-4 run to end the half, trimming the Bluejays’ deficit to a slightly more manageable 12 points.

Rival fans fired up over placement of UNC national title signs

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
2 Comments

When sports teams win championships, one of the benefits received is usually the placement of signs along major highways that honors said achievement. This is what the North Carolina Department of Transportation did in honor of North Carolina winning the national title. But according to the News & Observer some rival fans are none too pleased with the placement of two of these signs.

The two signs in question were placed on Interstate 40 in Raleigh, with one (which is visible to those driving east) being just three miles away from NC State’s home arena. For those driving westbound on I-40, there’s a visible sign at the Wake-Durham county line.

According to the News & Observer, the signs were placed at those spots in order to grab the attention of passengers deplaning at nearby Raleigh-Durham International Airport. But even with that being the case, someone had to know that the placement of the signs would not go over well with the fan base that calls Raleigh home.

In November, North Carolina’s request for eight signs to be erected across the state in acknowledgement of the men’s basketball team’s achievement was approved by the North Carolina Board of Transportation. A sign placed along I-85 also drew criticism, as some believed it to be too close to the Charlotte (formerly UNC Charlotte) campus. That sign would ultimately be moved to a spot close to the South Carolina state line.

And given the reactions to the signs along I-40, one has to wonder if the locations of those two signs will change as well.

The differences between the NCAA’s Louisville and North Carolina rulings

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
5 Comments

One of the questions that I have been asked the most since news broke that the NCAA had upheld a ruling that Louisville would have to vacate four seasons worth of wins, including a trip to the Final Four and a National Title, was why what Louisville did was significantly worse than the two decades of academic fraud that had occurred at North Carolina.

UNC, if you’ve forgotten, was not punished at all by the NCAA for the scandal involving paper classes that helped keep football and basketball players eligible.

And the reason for that is really quite simple: The NCAA made an active decision that they would not be in the business of determining what does and what does not constitute academic fraud. In April of 2014, the Division I Legislative Council clarified academic misconduct rules, saying “academic standards and policies governing misconduct are the responsibility of individual schools and their accreditation body,” and that “the membership’s position that it is a school’s responsibility to decide whether or not misconduct involving current or future student-athletes or school staff has occurred.”

The thinking here makes sense.

The NCAA is not an organization that is designed to determine whether or classwork is legitimate. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of accrediting agencies. Those rules are bigger than the NCAA. What they couldn’t have predicted, however, was that a university as prominent and as well-respected as the University of North Carolina would a hit to their academic respectability to protect their athletic department. UNC said that the fraudulent classes weren’t, you know, fraudulent. That’s why the NCAA tried North Carolina as an extra benefits case.

Put another way, the Committee on Infractions for the UNC case could not determine that the “courses were solely created, offered and maintained as an orchestrated effort to benefit student-athletes,” because they weren’t. They were created by a rogue professor. The athletic department found out those classes existed. Student-athletes took advantage of a fake class the way the rest of the student body at-large did. The fake classes were not created specifically for those student-athletes.

That distinction is critical, because it represents the difference between the scandal falling under NCAA jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of the agency tasked with accrediting the University of North Carolina as something other than a diploma mill.

With Louisville, there really was no debate about whether or not this was an NCAA issue. A member of a college basketball team’s coaching staff was providing student-athletes and prospective recruits, some of whom were under the age of 18, with lap dances and sexual favors that he paid for. That is the definition of extra benefits in the NCAA rulebook, and the egregiousness of what occurred — strippers, hookers, underage recruits, etc. — is why Louisville was hit so hard.

The NCAA is stupid and illogical and I hate so much about it, but I find it hard to fault them for the way either of these cases played out.

Penny Hardaway acknowledges links to college programs

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

One of the most fascinating subplots to this year’s college coaching carousel is what will happen with Penny Hardaway.

A Memphis basketball legend, Penny is currently the head coach of the powerhouse Memphis East high school while running a Nike-affiliated AAU program aptly named Team Penny. Combined, those rosters include an absolutely ridiculous amount of talent. James Wiseman, who may just be the best player in the Class of 2019, plays for both East and Team Penny. Another five-star prospect in the Class of 2019, D.J. Jeffries, also plays for Team Penny while his cousins — Jonathan and Chandler Lawson, the younger brothers of former Memphis and current Kansas players Dedric and K.J. — play for East.

There’s a real debate about whether or not those teams would be able to beat the Memphis Tigers basketball team.

As in the University of Memphis.

That’s where things are in that city.

Which is why Penny Hardaway has been linked to a job that isn’t even open yet. It’s why his name is mentioned when discussing whether or not Ole Miss should hire him to replace Andy Kennedy. We’re talking about a guy with more than a decade of experience in the NBA that can, in theory, bring with him the kind of talent that you would expect to see on a roster like Kentucky or Duke. It would only make sense for the likes of Memphis and Ole Miss to kick the tires.

What if he says yes?

And, according to an interview he gave to SEC Country, it sounds like Penny would, at the very least, listen.

“It’s a huge compliment for any college to even think about wanting me to come in. I feel like I bring a lot to the table even though I haven’t coached college,” he told the site on Monday. “I feel like my NBA experience and the coaches I’ve had over the years, I’ve learned enough to be a head coach in college. But I’m really enjoying this right now and coaching these guys.”

If Louisville vacates the 2013 national title, does Michigan win the national title?

3 Comments

Louisville lost their appeal, meaning that for the first time in college basketball history, a Division I program is going to have to take down a national title banner.

The details are pretty straight-forward: If one of the three enrolled student-athletes or 15 recruits that the were determined by the NCAA to have received “adult entertainment and/or sex acts” from strippers and sex workers played in any game from Dec. 2010 through July 2014, when Louisville staffer Andre McGee was paying for girls to come around Louisville’s Billy Minardi Hall, then that game is to be vacated from the Louisville record books.

That includes 123 regular season games and 15 NCAA tournament wins.

That also includes the 2012 Final Four and the 2013 National Title.

What does that mean? How does a program vacate records and titles?

Well, they can no longer do anything to officially reference winning that title. Banners come down. Record books must be changed. For all intents and purposes, Louisville must never again acknowledge that their run to the national title — which included Kevin Ware breaking his leg in the Elite 8 against Duke, a marvelous comeback in the Final Four against Wichita State and one of the most exciting halves of basketball in NCAA tournament history as Luke Hancock and Spike Albrecht went shot-for-shot — took place.

It doesn’t, however, mean that Michigan, whom Louisville beat in the national title game, won the 2013 National Championship.

This not like the Olympics. A silver medal does not turn to gold when the official winner is ruled a cheat. Michigan still lost that game in the eyes of the NCAA. Louisville did not forfeit the win. They just … also lost.

There is no winner.

Officially speaking, as of today, no one won the 2013 national title.