Colorado v Illinois

Colorado forward Xavier Johnson poised to break out in 2013-14

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Under head coach Tad Boyle, Colorado has made three consecutive trips to the postseason (one NIT appearance, followed by consecutive NCAA tournament appearances) for the first time in the history of the program.

But the Buffaloes will move forward without forward Andre Roberson, who made the decision to enter the 2013 NBA Draft last month. While Roberson (10.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg) wasn’t a prolific scorer during his time in Boulder it was his work as a rebounder and defender that makes him one of the best players to wear a Colorado uniform.

Even with the departure of Roberson and Sabatino Chen, Boyle and his staff will have enough talent to return to the NCAA tournament and have an impact on the Pac-12 race.

Point guard Spencer Dinwiddie is one of the best floor generals in the Pac-12, with his size giving the Los Angeles native advantages on both ends of the floor that few players at the position enjoy. And there’s also Askia Booker, who is more than capable of getting hot on the offensive end of the floor.

But with the departure of Roberson the focus will be on the front court, where a pair of rising sophomores will be asked to lead the way. Josh Scott gives Colorado a skilled big man, and Xavier Johnson is more than capable of breaking out in 2013-14.

“Terrific progression. He looked terrific this spring,” Boyle told CBT when asked about Johnson’s progress, noting that the 6-6 forward has been working hard on various aspects of his offensive skill set.

“If he continues the progression he was on his freshman year he’s going to have a breakout sophomore season for us.”

In his debut season Johnson averaged 8.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, moving into the starting lineup for good in the early stages of Pac-12 play. Johnson reached double figures in 12 games last season, with his career-high 22 points serving as a catalyst in the Buffaloes’ 76-53 win over Oregon on March 7.

The rebounding that needs to be accounted for due to Roberson’s departure will have to be handled by committee next season, with Johnson, Scott and the newcomers (redshirt Wesley Gordon and freshman Dustin Thomas being two) needing to share the load.

Johnson tallied three double-digit rebound outings during conference play, grabbing a career-high 14 in a one-point loss to Arizona State on February 16.

If he can become a more consistent rebounder in his sophomore season that will help Colorado account for Roberson’s departure, while also placing Johnson among the Pac-12’s best forwards.

“He’s got the physical tools, the basketball skill set,” said Boyle. “He has to tighten some things up, but if he keeps progressing he’s going to be a terrific player.”

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
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Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?