Blue Ribbon releases 2013-14 first-team All-Americans

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Earlier today, the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook — otherwise known as the “Bible” for college hoops fans — released their first-team All-Americans, and the five names shouldn’t come as a surprise: Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Louisville’s Russ Smith, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Michigan State’s Adreian Payne, and Creighton’s Doug McDermott.

If there is any conjecture who the folks at Blue Ribbon believe the best player in the nation is, that can probably be put to rest as Andrew Wiggins is featured prominently in the middle of the cover, with the other four players behind him — high expectations for the freshman to live up to.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

Travis Ford and the Oklahoma State faithful all collectively breathed a sigh of relief after learning Smart would return to Stillwater for his sophomore year. As a #5 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament, losing to Oregon in their opening game was already a difficult pill for Oklahoma State to swallow heading into the offseason, but losing Smart to the NBA may have been equally as difficult. Smart, who averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists last season, was one of the most dynamic players in the country. His return elevates the Cowboys from a borderline Top 25 team to a fringe Top 10 team.

Russ Smith, Louisville

Russdiculous returns for his senior year — whether you’ve grown tired of this nick name or not is inconsequential to Cardinal fans — and will be the focal point of the Louisville backcourt with Peyton Siva graduating. As a junior, Smith averaged 18.7 points, but his erratic play, at times, gave Rick Pitino head aches. Despite that, Smith is one of the most explosive offensive players in the country, and if Louisville is to reach the Final Four for the third straight year, it will largely be because of him.

Adreian Payne, Michigan State

Like Ford at Oklahoma State, Tom Izzo received good news when Adreain Payne decided to put the NBA off for at least one more year and return to Michigan State for his junior season. As a result, the Spartans are a consensus Top 5 team entering the 2013-14 season. Payne developed into an immovable force that anchored Michigan State’s interior offense and defense averaging 10.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game.

Doug McDermott, Creighton

All college basketball fans should be pleased to see Doug McDermott returning to Creighton. Playing on a bigger stage for his final year — even a watered down new Big East is a step up from the Missouri Valley — affords McDermott the opportunity to showcase his offensive skills for all to see. There may not be a player in the country that can score in the variety of ways that McDermott is able to. He is an incredibly efficient offensive player; his numbers speak for themselves — 23.2 points per game on 54.8% shooting and 49% 3PT shooting.

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas

While hosting Louisiana Monroe is Kansas’ first game of the season and will no doubt draw plenty of eyeballs, the entire college basketball community will be glued to Andrew Wiggins’ first game on a true national stage: Kansas vs. Duke on November 12th at the United Center. Much is expected of Wiggins, who was perhaps the biggest story during the offseason as he committed later in the 2013 recruiting process than many others. The youngster has handled himself with great poise, class, and dignity thus far. Now let’s see how he conducts himself on a national stage with the bright lights on him.

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.