Jahii Carson

Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson looks to go out in style

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Prior to the start of the 2012-13 season Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek said on multiple occasions that his team would play faster. And many snickered, pointing out that the team’s adjusted tempo of 63.6 in 2011-12 was the highest (ranked 281st nationally) of any Sendek-coached team during his time in Tempe. And from a scoring standpoint, since the 2008-09 squad led by James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph (now Jeff Ayres) averaged 69.4 points per game no Arizona State squad in the three seasons that followed averaged more than 67 points per contest.

But while the cynics scoffed Arizona State knew they had a point guard in redshirt freshman Jahii Carson capable of changing the tempo at which the Sun Devils ran, and sure enough the Mesa native’s impact was felt immediately. With Carson leading the way Arizona State increased its scoring average by more than ten points per game (71.8 ppg after averaging 61.0 ppg in 2011-12) and more importantly the Sun Devils increased their win total by 12, going from ten wins to 22 and a trip to the Postseason NIT.

In regards to Carson’s (18.5 ppg, 5.1 apg) individual achievements, he became the first freshman to average at least 18 points and five assists per game since Mount St. Mary’s guard Chris McGuthrie (19.8, 5.1) did so back in 1992-93. With the combination of his individual skills and the way in which he helped transform the Arizona State program, Carson very well could have made the decision to enter the 2013 NBA Draft.

But he didn’t, deciding instead to return to Tempe with the goal of leading Arizona State to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.

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“The most important information that we used to make the decision was Jahii’s own feelings about what he needed to do,” Sendek told NBC Sports. “Jahii has a very high basketball IQ, and he determined that this was really something that made sense for him.”

Carson wasn’t the first player to ultimately decide that returning to school was the best decision for him, and he certainly won’t be the last. But the concern in such situations is that instead of focusing on what the team needs, a player who returns to school does so with his focus being what the NBA scouts and executives want to see. And a failure to focus on the task at hand can result in a negative outcome for both the player and the program. However Sendek made it clear in early October that this would be the point guard’s final season in Tempe, and that move has removed most of the pressure Carson could have felt regarding the process.

“Many people, when they have the opportunity to go to the NBA, they try to play into what the NBA expects of them,” Carson told NBC Sports. “A lot of guys come back and say, ‘the NBA wants me to shoot better’ or ‘they want to see my ball-handling skills’ and they don’t necessarily play to win; they play to what the NBA scouts want to see.

“I’m the type of player who wants to win, because the more you win the better you’ll look to anybody,” Carson continued. “Everybody remembers a winner, so with my coach getting it out there and letting people know this will be my last season at Arizona State that takes the pressure off of me and allows me focus on making my teammates better and winning basketball games.”

If there’s one area that Carson needed to improve in during the offseason it was his perimeter shooting, as he made just 32% of his shots from beyond the arc in 2012-13. While the new rules limiting contact on the perimeter may benefit a jet-quick guard like Carson, there’s also the possibility of teams sagging off and essentially daring him to prove that he can consistently knock down perimeter shots. But to this point in the preseason, Carson’s perimeter shot has improved according to Sendek.

And while that’s certainly a skill Carson needed to improve upon with an eye towards the long-term goal (getting to the NBA and being productive there), more importantly it will help Arizona State in the short-term.

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“I think the two will go hand-in-hand,” noted Sendek. “The more he helps Arizona State, the better that will prepare him for the NBA and enhance his chances in that league.”

Arizona State lost two double-digit scorers from last season in Evan Gordon (10.1 ppg) and Carrick Felix (14.1, 8.6 rpg), with the latter also being a valuable team leader both on the court and in the locker room. But center Jordan Bachynski returns for his senior season after posting averages of 9.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and a Pac-12 best 3.4 blocked shots per game, and the experienced Jonathan Gilling (9.7, 6.1) returns as well. Add in seven newcomers and Arizona State expects to have the depth needed to play at an ever faster pace.

One of those newcomers is senior guard Jermaine Marshall, who averaged 16.3 points per game at Penn State last season. Marshall’s arrival should help relieve some of the nightly attention that Carson receives from opponents, but the sophomore point guard will still be asked to score. If anything, Marshall’s arrival is expected to help make Carson a more efficient player.

“I don’t think it’s going to decrease my scoring,” said Carson of Marshall’s possible impact. “I do think that it will increase my productivity. With me being a more mature player, I’m going to be able to hit three-pointers, make my free throws and be more efficient from the field than I was last year. ”

The graduation of Felix makes leadership all the more important, and that’s an area in which veterans such as Carson, Bachynski and Gilling will be asked to grab the reins. And with the Pac-12 being an improved conference with eight teams feeling that they’ve got the talent needed to reach the NCAA tournament, Arizona State’s climb won’t be an easy one. But having an elite point guard will definitely help matters, and for all the individual praise heaped upon Carson the goal for his final season in Tempe is to accomplish what he didn’t a year ago: play in the NCAA tournament.

“I wanted to get to the NCAA tournament and only a few people get to experience that in their lives, and I want to be one of those people,” said Carson. “I felt like I had unfinished business here, and I want to leave a legacy here at Arizona State. And by making the NCAA tournament, I feel that it would secure a legacy for me at Arizona State.”

WEEKEND PREVIEW: Kansas-Oklahoma rematch and who gets the No. 1 seeds?

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. steals the ball from Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield during the first half on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015, night at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan. (Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/TNS via Getty Images)
(Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/TNS via Getty Images)
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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 6 Kansas at No. 3 Oklahoma, Sat. 2:30 p.m.

The rematch we’ve all been waiting for will happen on Saturday.

A little more than a month after Buddy Hield burst onto the national scene with 46 points in a triple-overtime thriller — thriller doesn’t do it justice, that was one of the best college basketball games of all time — the Jayhawks will may their return trip to Norman to take of the Sooners. Only the circumstances of Saturday’s showdown will be a little bit different than what they were on that Monday night in January, when the No. 1 team in the AP poll squared off with the No. 1 team in the Coaches poll.

Oklahoma is no longer the No. 1 team in the country, as they’ve gone just 3-2 in their last five games while needing last-second game-winners to hang on against LSU and Texas during that stretch. But Kansas is not longer ranked at the top of the polls either, as the Jayhawks have managed just a 2-3 record in the Big 12 away from Phog Allen Fieldhouse, with those two wins coming against TCU and Texas Tech. They needed to beat West Virginia on Tuesday night just to ensure that this game would feature two teams sitting at the top of the Big 12 standings.

And that, at the end of the day, is going to be the most important takeaway from this game. Kansas plays four of their last seven Big 12 games on the road, and three of those road trips are against top 25 teams. Oklahoma? They have four road trips left as well, but they will be paying visits to Texas Tech and TCU during that stretch. That’s what makes the result of this one so important. Oklahoma, with a win, would put themselves in the driver’s seat for the Big 12 title race, and with a (road) game left against West Virginia — the third team tied for first in the league — they would control their own title destiny.

Before I move on, there’s one other interesting point that needs to be made here. When these two teams last played, Hield and Kansas guard Wayne Selden both looked like Big 12 Player of the Year candidates. Since then, Hield has emerged as the clear favorite for National Player of the Year, Selden has fallen off the map. It’s been 10 games since these two last faced off. Selden blew up for 33 in the win over Kentucky, but in the other nine games, he’s averaging just 9.9 points; he’s scored a total of 21 points in three games since beating Kentucky.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 24 Texas at No. 14 Iowa State, Sat. 8:30 p.m.

The Longhorns are suddenly looking like a legitimate Big 12 contender, which was not exactly expected to happen during Shaka Smart’s first season in Austin. The Cyclones, on the other hand, are trending in the opposite direction. They just lost at Texas Tech, they’re starting center (Jameel McKay) has been suspended for two games stemming from the way he’s behaved in practice and, even with McKay in the lineup, Iowa State is working with, essentially, a six-man rotation. So here’s the question: Will this game be the turning point in Iowa State’s season, or will Texas continue their assault on the top of the conference?

OH, AND HOW ABOUT THIS: No. 23 USC at No. 17 Arizona, Sun. 8:00 p.m.

Oregon is probably still the best team in the Pac-12 despite the loss to Cal last night, but USC and Arizona are the two teams that are the most likely to be able to make a run at unseating the Ducks from the top of the conference. As a matter of fact, the Trojans might be the most talented team in the Pac-12, but we’re basing all of this off of an Arizona team that was without Allonzo Trier for four weeks. Now that he is back and working his way into the rotation, this will be a nice gauge to see just how good the Wildcats really are.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. Duke seems to have righted the ship when it comes to their season. The Blue Devils have won three straight and four of their last five, including Monday’s win over No. 13 Louisville. They get a visit from a streaking No. 7 Virginia at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, a team that has gone from being atrocious on the road to blowing out Louisville and Pitt in their own buildings.
  2. Indiana is coming off of a huge win over No. 4 Iowa on Thursday night, but there’s no time for rest as the Hoosiers will be at No. 8 Michigan State, tipping off on Sunday 1:00 p.m. Michigan State just lost to Purdue on Tuesday, dropping them to 7-5 in the league, three games off the pace in the conference.
  3. No. 5 Xavier was mollywhopped by Creighton on the road on Tuesday. Butler? They picked up a critical win for their bubble profile at Seton Hall on Wednesday. The two will square off in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
  4. We’re going to find out a lot about the SEC power structure this weekend. At noon on Saturday, No. 22 Kentucky will travel up to Columbia to take on South Carolina, both of whom are sitting in a tie for first in the league standings. Just an hour later, No. 15 Texas A&M — who was the best team in the SEC but now sits a game out of first place — will trip to Baton Rouge to take on LSU. The Tigers? They’re right there with Kentucky and South Carolina, tied for first in the conference.
  5. The bottom-line is this: Gonzaga will not be receiving an at-large bid to the tournament if they do not win at No. 16 SMU on Saturday. Tip is at 10:00 p.m.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: Everyone

Ok, maybe not everyone.

But the easiest way to predict upsets — meaning ranked teams losing to unranked teams, not teams favored to win losing — it to look at which ranked teams are playing on the road and to decide which of those unranked teams are actually good. Well, this weekend, ten ranked teams will be firing up the busses (or chartered jets) and paying a visit to an unranked opponent: No. 5 Xavier, No. 7 Virginia, No. 11 Oregon, No. 12 Miami (FL), No. 13 Louisville, No. 15 Texas A&M, No. 18 Purdue, No. 19 Dayton, No. 22 Kentucky and No. 23 USC. Of those ten teams, only Dayton (at Rhode Island) will be visiting a team that is out of the NCAA tournament picture.

And that’s saying nothing of Gonzaga’s visit to No. 16 SMU. Or UCLA’s visit to No. 17 Arizona. Or Pitt playing at No. 9 UNC. Or Indiana heading to No. 8 Michigan State.

In other words, expect to see quite a few teams with numbers next to their name take a loss in the next three days.

WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT ON MONDAY: You mean other than what’s assured to be another class between Kansas and Oklahoma?

Maybe now it’s time to start discussing No. 1 seeds. Because of just how wide open this season has been, it feels like that part of the bracketology discussion has been somewhat overlooked. Usually, at this point in the year, that’s a dominant part of the conversation. Last season, the big story was whether or not Wisconsin and Kentucky were going to end up being slotted in the same region as a No. 1 and a No. 2 seed, and what the Badgers had to do to break into that No. 1 seed line.

This year?

That talk hasn’t really kicked off yet. So let’s change that, shall we?

Villanova, at this point, feels like the only lock for a No. 1 seed for a couple reasons: 1) Their profile is impressive, and 2) there doesn’t really appear to be anyone in the Big East that’s ready to challenge them. I’m not sure that a loss at Xavier will really be enough to drop them down a seed line.

I’d wager a guess that Oklahoma is probably a favorite to get a No. 1 seed right now as well, particularly if they knock off Kansas on Saturday. Currently, Oklahoma has six top 50 wins, an 11-3 record against the top 100 and three losses that all came in true road games, the worst of which is current bubble team Kansas State. If the Jayhawks win, they’ll be a No. 1 seed in Monday’s bracket projections and they may be on that seed line even with a loss. Kansas has eight top 50 wins, a 12-3 record against the top 100 and four losses that all came away from Phog Allen Fieldhouse. The one black eye? That loss to Oklahoma State.

That fourth No. 1 seed? Even with the loss last night, it’s probably Iowa. Their worst loss is at Indiana and they have six top 50 wins, although none of those wins — at least in the eyes of the RPI, that 19 point drubbing of Michigan State at the Breslin Center was damn impressive — are as good as Virginia’s three best wins. But all four of Virginia’s losses are worse than any of Iowa’s

So I’ll rock with Iowa for now. I’d lean Virginia over North Carolina if the Hawkeyes lose this weekend. Both teams have lost four games, all on the road, and while UNC’s losses are “better”, Virginia has much better wins. Eight in the top 50, to be exact, compared to just three for the Tar Heels. It will be nine top 50 wins for the ‘Hoos if they can take care of Duke this weekend.

I’m not sure Maryland has enough quality wins available on their schedule to be able to play their way up to the No. 1 seed line, while Oregon has too many losses at this point to be thought of as more than a No. 2/3 seed.

THE REST OF THE WEEKEND’S NOTABLE GAMES

UCLA at No. 17 Arizona, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
No. 19 Dayton at Rhode Island, Fri. 7:00 p.m.
No. 23 USC at Arizona State, Fri. 8:00 p.m.
Northern Iowa at No. 25 Wichita State, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
No. 18 Purdue at Michigan, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon at Stanford, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
No. 13 Louisville at Notre Dame, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
Pitt at No. 9 North Carolina, Sun. 1:00 p.m.
No. 12 Miami (FL) at Florida State, Sun. 6:30 p.m.

Indiana upsets No. 4 Iowa, moves into first-place tie in Big Ten

Indiana's Troy Williams (5) and Collin Hartman (30) celebrate after Williams made a shot and was fouled during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Bloomington, Ind. Indiana won 85-78. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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Indiana picked off the No. 4 team in the country on Thursday night, beating Iowa in Assembly Hall, 85-78.

It goes without saying that this was a huge win for the Hoosiers. They had just a single top 50 win on their résumé entering the night. They were on the right side of the bubble entering the day, but for a team that just moved into a tie for first place in the Big Ten with the win, they were no where near as safe as you might think.

You read that right.

Indiana is not exactly safe when it comes to their NCAA tournament standing despite, on February 11th, being tied with Iowa and Maryland for first place in the Big Ten.

So yes, adding a top ten win to that profile is incredibly significant.

Having a realistic shot at winning the Big Ten regular season title is incredibly significant.

But more than anything, how this win came to be matters more than anything.

For starters, it came on a night where Yogi Ferrell was off. He hit his first shot and his last shot of the night, but missed all ten field goal attempts in between. He finished with just one assist compared to two turnovers and four fouls. He was bad. And it didn’t matter. For a team that relies as heavily upon a player as Indiana relies upon Yogi, that’s significant.

As is the fact that the Hoosiers were able to win despite blowing a 16-point lead. Remember, Indiana had lost to Penn State on Saturday. Following that up by blowing a huge lead at home in the most important game of the season is the kind of thing that can obliterate a team’s confidence, and with a brutal stretch run — at Michigan State, Nebraska, Purdue, at Illinois, at Iowa, Maryland — getting into a funk now would be a season-killer.

Six Hoosiers scored at least nine points, led by 14 from Ferrell, while it was the play of Thomas Bryant and Troy Williams, grabbing 10 of Indiana’s 19 offensive rebounds, that really made the difference; the Hoosiers scored 26 second-chance points.

As far as Iowa is concerned, the only real problem coming from this loss was their inability to keep Indiana off of the offensive glass. The Hoosiers had 12 offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes. Iowa had 11 total rebounds. On the season, the Hawkeyes are 225th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. Indiana gets to the offensive glass as well as anyone, but Fran McCaffery is not going to be happy about their numbers — or effort — when he watches this film.