Gary Harris

2013-2014 Season Preview: The Top 20 Off-Guards

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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.

Basketball has five positions, but the way that the sport has grown, particularly at the collegiate level, has produced hybrid players, unusual roster makeups and far too many teams with players that don’t fit into a typical positional category. Few teams actually field a traditional starting five, which is why CBT decided to make our positional rankings reflect that.

We will be ranking:

Off-guards are the term that we will be using for players that unquestionably play in the back court, yet spend most of their time off the ball. Some of these guys are spot up shooters, some of them are slashers and some of them are combo-guards that just so happens to share a back court with a a ball-dominating lead guard. Whatever the case, the bottom line is that they are all guards that play off the ball. Hence, off guards. Simple, right?

Here is our top 20:

1. Russ Smith (Louisville): Smith went from a wildly entertaining, wildly inefficient player as a sophomore to a guy that won KenPom’s Efficiency Player of the Year award as a junior. He’s a perfect fit for the system that Rick Pitino employs. He’s a terror as an on-ball defender and he’s impossible to keep out of the lane or to stop in transition. When he plays with a modicum of shot selection, he’s an all-american.

2. Gary Harris (Michigan State): We’ve written about it all summer long: the nation as yet to see the “real” Gary Harris, as he was a shell of himself as a freshman while battling a shoulder injury. Harris is more explosive than he gets credit for and could end up being the best player on title-contending Michigan State this season.

AP photo

3. Tyler Haws (BYU): Haws came off of a two-year Mormon mission without missing a beat, averaging 21.7 points as a sophomore. The Cougars aren’t going to slow down their pace of play at all this season, so it should be fun to see what Haws can do with an offseason to work on more than just getting back into shape. He’s the best player in the country at moving without the ball.

4. Joe Harris (Virginia): Harris is the most underrated player in the ACC, having averaged 16.3 points as a junior for a Virginia team that played at as slow of a pace as anyone in the country. At 6-foot-6, Harris’ shooting ability makes him a nightmare to defend.

5. Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke): Due to the fact that he will be playing on a team that has plenty of perimeter depth and two other potential lottery picks (Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood), Sulaimon may not put up huge numbers this season. But don’t sleep on his talent.

6. Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati): The biggest issue with Kilpatrick heading into this season isn’t his ability to score; he averaged 17.0 points as a junior. It’s that he may not have much help in that department with this Cincy roster.

7. P.J. Hairston (North Carolina): It’s unclear when we will actually see Hairston take the court this season, but what’s undeniable is that the junior is a major talent. We’re going to go ahead and assume that whatever punishment he receives is minimal enough that it won’t hurt his season.

8. Jordan McRae (Tennessee): McRae is the leading scorer and the No. 1 perimeter threat for a Tennessee team that should be the third best team in the SEC. The senior averaged 15.7 points a season ago.

9. Aaron Harrison (Kentucky): The unheralded Harrison, Aaron has been drawing rave reviews from people that have watched Kentucky practice and play early on this season. His ability to shoot from the perimeter will be key to providing space inside for Kentucky’s massive front line.

10. Markel Brown (Oklahoma State): For all the hype that Marcus Smart gets, there were plenty of times last season where Brown carried the Pokes. The 15.3 points he averaged went a long way towards proving he’s more than just a dunker.

Travis Bader (AP photo)


  • 11. Nik Stauskas (Michigan): One of the nation’s most lethal shooters, expect Stauskas to showcase his athleticism and driving ability more this year.
  • 12. Wayne Selden (Kansas): Selden is a big, physical guard that attacks the rim. The freshman will be a perfect compliment to Andrew Wiggins on the wing.
  • 13. C.J. Wilcox (Washington): He’s doesn’t get much publicity playing for a mediocre Washington team, but Wilcox can flat-out score.
  • 14. Marshall Henderson (Ole Miss): We love Marshall. He’s entertaining and loves to shoot. But there’s more to basketball than being a gunner that averages 20.1 points.
  • 15. Jordan Adams (UCLA): With all the hype surrounding Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson, not many people noticed the outstanding season Adams had.
  • 16. Travis Bader (Oakland): Bader may be the only guy that can get up as many threes in a game as Marshall Henderson. He’s 101 away from J.J. Redick’s career record.
  • 17. Danuel House (Houston): The former top 25 recruit averaged 12.4 points as a freshman and will take over a bigger role with Joseph Young gone this year.
  • 18. Keith Frazier (SMU): The McDonald’s all-american will be SMU’s go-to scorer this season.
  • 19. Geron Johnson (Memphis): Johnson was a risky addition for Pastner, but he’s a talented athlete and a tenacious defender.
  • 20. Nick Johnson (Arizona): Johnson was a highly-regarded recruit that hasn’t quite lived up to his hype just yet. Arizona will need him to be an effective perimeter scorer.

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.