Keith Appling

The X-Factors of the 2013-2014 College Basketball Season

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source: Getty Images
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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists,click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Duke’s big men: With Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Rasheed Sulaimon on the roster, Duke’s perimeter attack is so loaded that it will be tough to find minutes for guys like Matt Jones, Andre Dawkins and Alex Murphy. The issue for the Blue Devils will be in the paint. With Mason Plumlee having graduated, the Blue Devils will have a couple of options: using redshirt freshman Marshall Plumlee, consistently out-talented Josh Hairston or playing an undersized youngster like Amile Jefferson or Semi Ojeleye out of position. The Blue Devils will be able to spread the floor and create matchup problems, but will they defend the rim and rebound the ball?

Keith Appling, Michigan State: It seems like Appling has been the x-factor for the Spartans for the better part of a decade, and this season is no different. Appling has never been a pure point guard, and it’s taken him time to learn to be a playmaker first and foremost. It will be all the more essential this season, as the Spartans plan to play in transition more often this season. There’s enough talent on this roster to win a national title if Appling can lead them there.

Aaron Gordon’s position: If Aaron Gordon can embrace the idea of playing the four, than he has a chance to be a first-team All-American and Arizona should be considered a legitimate title contender. But if he forces his way into being a wing, it creates problems for the Wildcats. I wrote about this extensively here, so I’ll keep this section brief.

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: There are so many question marks about the Indiana program heading into this season, but if there is anything that we do know about the Hoosiers, it’s that Ferrell will be the guy running the point. The only guy running the point, as a matter of fact. Indiana doesn’t really have a back-up. He’ll also be asked to be Tom Crean’s go-to guy offensively as well, which is a lot of pressure to put on one player. If he can handle it, Indiana should end up near the top of the Big Ten.

Chris Jones, Louisville: I’m not sure that people truly understand just how valuable Peyton Siva was to Louisville last season. He was the guy with the ball in his hands at the end of a clock, he was their leader and play maker, and he was a perfect fit for what Rick Pitino wanted defensively. More importantly, Siva was a calming influence alongside Russdiculous. Those are mighty big shoes for Jones, a one-time Tennessee commit and the best JuCo player in the country a year ago, to fill.

source: Getty Images
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Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Ennis is really the only point guard on the Syracuse roster, which means that Jim Boeheim will be turning over the reigns of his team to a player that has never set foot on a collegiate court before the season. The Orange are once again talented enough to be considered a top ten team and a title contender heading into the season, but if this group is to make a return to the Final Four, they’ll need Ennis to have a big freshman year.

Michael Cobbins, Oklahoma State: Travis Ford will have more guards at his disposal than he will know what to do with next season. In addition to all-league performers Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, the Pokes have Phil Forte, Brian Williams and Stevie Clark on the roster. Throw in Le’Bryan Nash, and Oklahoma State has the pieces to be able to spread the floor quite effectively. To make that happen, however, Ford will need to find a presence in the paint, and Cobbins, a 6-foot-8 redshirt junior that averaged 6.9 points and 6.1 boards a year ago, is the guy that will be called upon.

Joel Embiid, Kansas: You know about Andrew Wiggins and how good he should end up being. You’ve probably heard about Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis and how they can compliment Wiggins offensively. But with a team as young as Kansas is with as many question marks as the Jayhawks have at the point guard spot, consistency on the offensive end will be hard to come by. As always, Kansas will be a team that wins because they are elite defensively, and Embiid, like Jeff Withey was the past two seasons, will be the anchor of that defense.

Derrick Walton, Michigan: Replacing Trey Burke is not going to be an easy thing for Michigan to do, as it was his ability to come off of screens and create that made the Wolverines so dangerous. That’s why Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III got so many open threes throughout the year, and that’s part of the reason that Mitch McGary blew up in the postseason. Burke made everyone that much better with his ability to create. Walton, and to a lesser extent Spike Albrecht, is the hear apparent to the point guard spot at Michigan. No pressure, he just have to replace the National Player of the Year.

Zach Auguste, Notre Dame: The Irish have a terrific perimeter attack this season, but losing Jack Cooley is going to hurt. He was a double-double machine that got Mike Brey’s club so many second-chance points. Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman are known quantities, big bodies that will play hard, use their five fouls and reward you with a couple of buckets and a couple boards. Auguste is more talented than that. He’s good enough to be a real replacement for Cooley, and a real post presence on this team is a difference-maker.

Josh Smith, Georgetown: If Josh Smith can get into shape, he’s an all-american caliber talent. His size, his quick feet, his touch around the rim. He could really be effective for the Hoyas considering how good some of their guards are. The problem? Not only has Smith never been in shape in his career, but he’s still waiting for word from the NCAA when he can suit up this season. If he joins the team in December, will he be as effective?


Here are 12 more X-Factors:

  • Shaq Goodwin and David Pellom, Memphis: The Tigers are loaded on the perimeter, but they’ll need Goodwin and Pellom to be a presence in the paint to compete for the AAC title.
  • Kenny Chery, Baylor: The JuCo transfer will have first crack at replacing Pierre Jackson at the point.
  • Kris Dunn, Providence: Finally healthy, Dunn is a dynamic point guard that should thrive in Ed Cooley’s uptempo system.
  • Cullen Neal and Deshawn Delaney, New Mexico: Replacing Tony Snell’s defense and perimeter shooting will be the key to New Mexico’s season.
  • Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida: With Will Yeguete banged up and Chris Walker ineligible for at least the fall, the versatile Finney-Smith will see plenty of minutes.
  • Xavier Johnson, Colorado: Johnson was awesome in flashes last season and will fill the role Andre Roberson left vacant.
  • Robert Hubbs, Tennessee: The Vols need someone to help Jordan McRae keep the floor spread for their big men.
  • Tony Parker, UCLA: If reports are true and Parker has gotten into shape this offseason, he could be the paint presence Steve Alford needs.
  • Deandre Kane, Iowa State: Kane put up huge numbers at Marshall but wasn’t the easiest player to deal with in the locker room.
  • Deandre Daniels, UConn: With more guards than Kevin Ollie can handle, Daniels will need to help Tyler Olander up front.
  • Alex Dragicevich, Boston College: Can the Notre Dame transfer help take the pressure off of Ryan Anderson and Olivier Hanlon?
  • Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa: We will finally get to see the Wisconsin transfer in action after two straight redshirt seasons.

Michigan State’s Tum Tum Nairn battling foot injury

Lourawls Nairn Jr.
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Michigan State has climbed on the back of star senior wing Denzel Valentine early in the season but they’ll undoubtedly need more help as the season goes on if they want to sustain their current top-5 ranking. One of the keys to the Spartans could be the on-going health of sophomore point guard Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn, who is battling a foot injury.

According to a report from Kyle Austin of, Nairn has been putting on a protective boot the last few months to help battle plantar fasciitis as the guard has been playing in practices and hasn’t had his minutes reduced in games.

The injury looked like it was hurting Nairn’s early-season play, but he’s been very good in two games at the Wooden Legacy in California this week, so it could be that he’s getting more used to playing through the pain of the injury.

If Nairn is healthy and capable of contributing, he’s a huge boost to Michigan State because he’s one of the fastest players in college basketball and an additional ball handler on the floor. Through six games so far this season, Nairn is averaging 5.3 points and 4.7 assists per game as he’s been one of the team’s best distributors.

Plantar fasciitis can be a tough injury to fight through, so we’ll have to see if this affects Nairn as the season goes along.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: A few tournaments are still going on

Justin Jenifer, Charles Jackson
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GAME OF THE DAY: George Washington vs. No. 24 Cincinnati, 1:30 p.m.

Two 6-0 teams clash at the Barclays Center in what could be an important game for NCAA tournament resumes of both teams. The Bearcats picked up their most legitimate win over Nebraska, but the Colonials pose as a more real threat after they beat Virginia at home earlier this season. Cincinnati hasn’t shot the ball well in recent wins, but they’re beating up opponents on the glass and the defense has been solid. George Washington is coming off of a win over Tennessee in which they held off the Volunteers in the second half. The Colonials have lost 20 of their last 23 against ranked opponents, but another win over a top team would look great for them going forward.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 4 Iowa State vs. Illinois, 6:00 p.m. (CBSSN)

This game is apart of the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida as the Illini could desperately use a win after a 3-3 start. Illinois head coach John Groce and his team are feeling the pressure for a big win on a neutral site after falling to North Florida, Providence and Chattanooga earlier in the season. The No. 4 Cyclones easily dispatched Virginia Tech earlier in the event and have found a nice balance on offense with the emergence of senior big man Jameel McKay inside.


  • N0. 2 Maryland has struggled to put away teams early at times this season and they’ll try to change that behavior when they host Cleveland State.
  • Staying in the Big Ten, No. 16 Purdue hosts Lehigh. With a game at Pitt and against New Mexico looming, could this be a trap game for the Boilers?
  • Nebraska and Tennessee take the floor in consolation action at the Barclays Center. The Huskers need someone besides Shavon Shields and Andrew White to step up in the scoring column while Tennessee is getting huge numbers from senior guard Kevin Punter.
  • Two 4-0 teams will meet in Brooklyn as Louisville takes on Saint Louis (7:00 p.m., ESPN3). Neither team has faced a significant test this season and this is the Cardinals’ first game away from home.
  • An intriguing night game to keep an eye on is Belmont traveling to BYU (8:00 p.m.). The Bruins are as well-coached as any team in the country and forward Evan Bradds has been playing great ball to start the season. The Cougars don’t have a high scorer like they did in the past, but Kyle Collinsworth is a triple-double threat every time he steps on the floor and BYU has a lot of weapons around him.
  • UAB and Virginia Tech battle in one of the more intriguing consolation games of the Emerald Coast Classic. Both teams are coming off of disappointing losses but have a shot to make things better on the trip with a solid win on Saturday.


  • Bryant at Georgetown, 11:00 a.m. (FS2)
  • Bucknell at Penn State , 12:00 p.m.
  • Tennessee-Martin vs. Mississippi State, 12:00 p.m. (SEC Network)
  • Ole Miss at Bradley, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Old Dominion at VCU, 3:00 p.m.
  • Hawaii at Texas Tech, 3:00 p.m.
  • Kent State at Pitt, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • SIU-Edwardsville at Butler, 4:00 p.m.
  • Georgia at Seton Hall, 6:30 p.m.
  • Western Illinois at Creigton, 7:00 p.m.
  • Colorado State vs UTEP, 7:30 p.m.