NCAA Final Four Michigan Louisville Basketball

Can Montrezl Harrell, Ty Wallace have breakout seasons?

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One of the my favorite columns of the year comes every August from Luke Winn, who has managed to put together a formula that he uses to predict which freshman will have breakout seasons as sophomores based on a formula: high-usage rates, efficient production, and limited minutes in their first year on campus.

This year’s crop features three big men that were quite promising when they saw the floor last season, a couple of under-the-radar forwards from low profile teams and Sam Dekker, a former McDonald’s all-american that now plays at Wisconsin.

There’s not much to disagree with on Winn’s list, but there are a couple of other names worth mentioning here.

The first is Louisville big man Montrezl Harrell. Harrell played limited minutes behind Gorgui Dieng last season, but with the big fella off to the NBA, the former Virginia Tech-signee has had a whole bunch of minutes open up for him. Harrell was quite impressive in short stretches during Louisville’s run to the national title last season, averaging 5.7 points and 3.6 boards, and carried that over to the summer, as he was one of the best players on Team USA’s U19 team that played in the Czech Republic.

He’s big, he’s strong, he’s athletic and he plays hard. Harrell doesn’t have a ton of moves on the block and he’s not the passer that Dieng was, but he’ll rebound and block shots and finish off breaks in transition. I expect Harrell to have a big year and be a constant source of energy for Rick Pitino.

Another player that I liked last season was Cal freshman Ty Wallace. A lanky, 6-foot-4 guard, Wallace averaged 7.2 points, 4.4 boards and 2.6 assists despite sharing the perimeter with Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs. Crabbe’s off to the NCAA and Cobbs is dealing with a broken foot. The opportunity is there for Wallace to step in and make a major impact this season, and I expect him to take advantage of it.

Neither of those guys fit into Winn’s formula, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone outside of Louisville and Berkeley that doesn’t think they can have a big year as a sophomore.

Besides, Winn’s formula isn’t perfect.

Remember Christian Standhardinger?

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.