Marcus Smart

2013-14 Season Preview: The nation’s most important players

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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.

Throughout the course of the season there will be many debates over who the best player in the country is. Marcus Smart? Andrew Wiggins? Doug McDermott? Someone else? It’s a fun discussion to have, because frankly the debate won’t end until awards are handed out Final Four weekend. But the same can be said in regards to another important question: who are the nation’s most important players? A team’s most important player may not be the most talented, but he’s the one whose best is needed every night if the team is to be successful and make a run in the spring.

Here are ten of the nation’s most important players entering the 2013-14 season:

1. Keith Appling (Michigan State): Now a senior, the point guard from Detroit has to be at his best if the Spartans are to win the Big Ten and make a run at the school’s third national title. Last season Appling posted averages of 13.4 points and 3.3 assists per game, but the assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4) has to improve. Do that, and Michigan State is capable of winning it all.

2. Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State): We went with Smart as our national Player of the Year due in part to his impressive freshman campaign. But for all the production (15.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.2 apg) the Cowboys were one-and-done in the NCAA tournament. Travis Ford’s team doesn’t lack for talent, as Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash returned to Stillwater as well, but if the Cowboys are to leave their mark in the Big 12 and nationally it’s Smart who will lead the way.

3. Andrew Harrison (Kentucky): Harrison (currently dealing with a right knee contusion) hasn’t played a college game, but the fact that he’s the point guard for John Calipari’s talented squad makes him a very important player. In regards to both his size (6-foot-4) and skill set Harrison, one of six McDonald’s All-Americans to pick UK, is tailor-made for the dribble drive motion system that turned the likes of Derrick Rose, John Wall and Marquis Teague into NBA Draft picks. If Kentucky is to make a run at a ninth national title, Andrew Harrison will be an important piece of the puzzle.

4. Naadir Tharpe (Kansas): Andrew Wiggins has received much of the preseason press and with good reason; he’s an incredibly gifted player. But for all the talent Kansas has on the wings and inside, the same can’t be said for their depth at the point. If Tharpe (5.5 ppg, 3.1 apg) proves himself to be capable of running the show in an efficient manner, the Jayhawks can win yet another Big 12 title and even a national title.

5. T.J. McConnell (Arizona): To understand McConnell’s importance to the Wildcats, one number stands out: 268. That was Arizona’s national ranking in three-point percentage defense last season, after being one of the best teams in the country in that department in each of the two seasons prior. In McConnell Arizona adds a point guard who’s a distributor first, a high-level defender (A-10 All-Defensive Team selection 2011-12) and he’s a good perimeter shooter as well.

6. Tyler Ennis (Syracuse): Ennis, like Harrison, has yet to play a college game but Syracuse’s lack of depth at the point makes him vitally important in their first season in the ACC. There’s no Michael Carter-Williams or Brandon Triche, and if Ennis doesn’t perform as expected the Orange won’t be able to take full advantage of their talented players at other spots on the roster (C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant being two).

7. P.J. Hairston (North Carolina): The Tar Heels may not be a national contender on the level of some of the other teams represented on this list, but here’s the question: who else on that roster is capable of shouldering the load offensively? James Michael McAdoo (14.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg) averaged double digits last season but the currently suspended Hairston (14.6 ppg) is the marquee option. If Hairston falters, either on or off the court, UNC’s in trouble.

8. LaQuinton Ross (Ohio State): Ross averaged just 8.3 points per game last season, but he scored at least 17 points in three of the Buckeyes’ four NCAA tournament games. With Deshaun Thomas now playing at the professional level, Ohio State needs Ross to prove himself capable of producing on a consistent basis.

9. Jabari Parker (Duke): Due to the arrival of Parker and Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood, the Blue Devils will be able to rely a lot more on their wings to make plays this season. Parker’s an incredibly gifted player, and after dealing with a foot issue last year the Chicago native’s healthy now. The better Parker is the more attention he’ll receive from opponents, which will ultimately benefit the other players in Mike Krzyzewski’s rotation.

10. Yogi Ferrell (Indiana): Indiana lost a lot of talent and production from last season’s Big Ten regular season champion squad, meaning that Ferrell will need to lead the way (along with senior wing Will Sheehey) if the Hoosiers are to once again be a factor in the Big Ten. As a freshman Ferrell averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists per game.


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1. Montrezl Harrell (Louisville): With Chane Behanan suspended the Cardinals don’t have a great amount of depth inside, so Harrell will have to put together the breakout campaign many expect if they’re to repeat.
2. Doug McDermott (Creighton): McDermott was outstanding for the Bluejays last season, posting averages of 23.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game on 54.8% shooting from the field and 49% shooting from three.
3. Jahii Carson (Arizona State):
Carson’s the reason why the Sun Devils want to play even faster this season, as he averaged 18.5 points and 5.1 assists per game as a freshman. The goal now is to get ASU to its first NCAA tournament since 2009.
4. Kasey Hill (Florida):
With Scottie Wilbekin suspended Hill becomes even more important to the Gators, and given the freshman’s skill level it can be argued that he’d be running the show either way. If he performs well, Florida can be one of Kentucky’s biggest challengers in the SEC.
5. Glenn Robinson III (Michigan):
The Wolverines lost Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., but the return of their talented sophomore class makes Michigan a threat to win the Big Ten. Mitch McGary is obviously a key player, but given the lost production the Wolverines have to account for Robinson may be their most important player.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.