Marcus Smart

Tuesday’s Sophomore Showcase more evidence how awesome this season will be

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On Tuesday night, each of the nation’s top four freshmen took to the court.

Jabari Parker went for 21 points, nine boards and six blocks in a win over East Carolina, a performance that also just so happened to include his second ridiculous, coast-to-coast move of the young season. Kentucky’s Julius Randle had 22 points, 10 boards, four assists and two blocks, getting outshined by teammate James Young’s 26 points, in a win over UT-Arlington. Andrew Wiggins, who was overshadowed by 16 points and 13 boards from Joel Embiid, finished with a modest 13 points, seven boards, three assists and two steals in a win over Iona, while Aaron Gordon’s reverse alley-oop was the highlight of Arizona’s win over Rhode Island.

Those four teams and their freshmen phenoms have received an overwhelming amount of hype and coverage early on this season, so it should come as no surprise that the chance to see all four on the same night drew quite a bit of attention.

You’d have to think that irked Marcus Smart a bit.

A Preseason First-Team All-American and the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, the attention that Smart has gotten this season has been, frankly, non-existent. That changed on Tuesday night, as he put on an absolute show, scoring 26 of his career-high 39 points in the first half as he led Oklahoma State to a dominating, 101-80 victory over No. 11 Memphis.

source:  It truly was an unbelievable performance. Smart was a terror on the defensive end, getting credited with five steals (which seemed low) and two blocks, while showcasing the intangible aspects of his game that has scouts and writers alike salivating. But more importantly, he gotten into a kind of offensive rhythm that we’ve rarely seen from the sophomore. Twice in the first half he reeled off 12 straight Oklahoma State points, including a flurry of three straight threes that put Memphis in a double-digit hole they’re never be able to climb out of.

(MORE: Marcus Smart throws down the gauntlet)

It was, unquestionably, the most dominant performance that we had seen to date.

The problem?

He wasn’t the only sophomore point guard with a statement to make.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State’s dynamic lead guard, may have done Smart one better. At the very least, he did in the scoring column, finishing with 40 points and seven assists as the Sun Devils went into the Thomas & Mack Center and knocked off a rejuvenated UNLV team.

Carson, another Preseason All-American that returned for his sophomore season, is more-or-less a known quantity at this point. He’s a super-quick, uber-athletic playmaker that is so difficult to keep out of the lane he can still put up numbers like he did tonight despite the fact that everyone knows he doesn’t go left.

I don’t think Smart was the only guy upset about all the attention that the freshmen class has been getting.

Don’t worry, fellas.

We haven’t forgotten about you.

In fact, this budding rivalry between the freshmen and the returners is part of what makes this season so special. Think about it. I’ve mention six legitimate superstars at the collegiate level to this point in this column. Six. With the exception of Carson, it’s not crazy to think that the other five could end up being the top five picks in the NBA Draft.

You know who I haven’t mentioned?

Doug McDermott. Or Russ Smith. Or Gary Harris. Or Mitch McGary. Or Aaron Craft. Or Shabazz Napier.

The list goes on.

There is as much star-power, from coast to coast, as there has been in college basketball since at least the 2007-2008 season, when Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo were dominating campuses across the country. And not only are there stars, but those stars play on really good teams. The general consensus is that the top six — Michigan State, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Louisville and Arizona — are all very legitimate title contenders, a number that is larger than we are used to seeing. And that was before Oklahoma State did everything they could to play their way onto that list.

Star power. Great teams. Balance. And as good as all of that is, it’s not what makes this season so special.

What makes this year so great is that, on a night where there was this much talent on display, the kid that was the best player to take the court was … Frank Kaminsky?

(MORE: Read about Kaminsky’s memorable night)

If you don’t know who that is, he’s Wisconsin’s newest starting center. He entered the day having scored 26 points this season and 133 points in his career. His career-high in college was 19 points. His career-high ever? 39 points.

And on Tuesday, he stole the show.

Kaminsky finished with 43 points on 16-for-18 shooting, hitting all six of his threes.

Should I mention we’re just 10 days into the year?

Yup.

This is going to be fun.

Swanigan staying for sophomore season

Purdue's Vince Edwards (12), Purdue's Caleb Swanigan (50) and Purdue's A.J. Hammons (20) celebrate during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Illinois in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Purdue won 89-58. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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Purdue will once again be rolling out a formidable frontcourt in the 2016-17 season.

Boilermaker big man Caleb Swanigan is withdrawing from the NBA Draft to return to West Lafayette for his sophomore season, the school announced Wednesday.

The NBA is right there and always will be,” Swanigan said in the school’s press release, “but you always have to have patience and do what’s best for you.”

Purdue is losing 7-foot senior A.J. Hammons, but will be once again teaming Swanigan with Isaac Haas (7-2) and Vince Edwards (6-8) that will allow them to roll out a supersized lineup that is sure to be a difficult one to face off against.

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan, who likely would have landed as a second-round pick, averaged 10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists and was a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award for the country’s top freshman.

“We are excited that (Swanigan) has withdrawn from the NBA Draft and will return to Purdue,” head coach said Matt Painter in a statement released by the school. “He has the potential to make a huge jump from his freshman season and will be a big part of what we do next year. He received great experience going through this process and will use the feedback he received to make him a more diverse player.”

Purdue is probably a rung down from Michigan State and Wisconsin at the top of the league, but the return of Swanigan pulls them closer to competing at the top of the league next season.

USC’s Nikola Jovanovic not expected to return to USC

Southern California forward Nikola Jovanovic pauses on the court during an NCAA college basketball game against Washington State, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Nikola Jovanovic’s college career has come to a close.

The USC center will not withdraw his name from NBA Draft consideration by Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m., a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Jovanovic, a 6-foot-11 Serbian, averaged 12.3 points and 7.0 boards as a junior with the Trojans.

Jovanovic is not expected to be drafted, which means that Andy Enfield’s club will be losing two players to the professional ranks with eligibility to spare that likely won’t end up on an NBA roster next season. Julian Jacobs, who averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 boards, signed with an agent back in April.

The Trojans were a top 25 team last season despite many considering them to still be “a year away”. But with two starters departing, the Trojans will be a borderline preseason top 25 team as opposed to a top 15 team.

Marcus Lee withdrawing from the draft, transferring from Kentucky

Kentucky forward Marcus Lee dunks during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game against Indiana in the NCAA Tournament, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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For the second time this season and just the sixth time in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, the Wildcats are losing a player to transfer.

Marcus Lee announced on Wednesday that he will be withdrawing from the NBA Draft, but the 6-foot-9 forward will not be returning to Kentucky. He will be transferring out of the program to a new school.

“I want to thank the University of Kentucky, the basketball staff and the Big Blue Nation for supporting me over the years,” Lee said. “I’m sorry it took me so long to come to this decision, but I’m trying to do what’s right for me and my family. I’ll always think fondly of my time at Kentucky.”

Lee averaged 6.4 points and 6.0 boards this season, seeing his first major minutes as a member of the Wildcats. But he seemed destined for a bench role if he had opted to return to Kentucky this season as John Calipari has landed a recruiting class that includes five-star freshmen Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.

The tough part?

It does not appear that Lee will be able to finish his degree and be eligible to play immediately next season. He’ll have to sit a year at whatever school he opts to transfer to.

“Marcus Lee informed us today that he is pulling his name out of the draft but has decided he is going to transfer to a school out west to be closer to his family,” head coach John Calipari said. “We talked it through together and discussed the team next season, which he said had no bearing on his decision. I also told him he was a semester away from graduating. With that said, he was still adamant that, after the combine experience, a year off and regrouping would be the best thing. As always I support my players and their decisions.”

Lee joins Charles Matthews as members of last year’s Wildcats that are transferring out of the program. Darnell Dodson (Southern Miss), Stacey Poole (Georgia Tech) , Ryan Harrow (Georgia State) and Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga) are the other four players that have transferred.

Isaiah Briscoe to return to Kentucky

Eric Johnson, Isaiah Briscoe
(AP Photo/James Crisp)
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Isaiah Briscoe announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season.

The 6-foot-3 guard had one of the more difficult decisions to make for players in this year’s draft class. On the one hand, there was a very real chance that he would go through this draft without getting picked. He was a role-playing guard on last year’s team that isn’t a point guard, isn’t big enough to be a two-guard and was a total liability shooting the ball.

But he’s returning to a team that is as loaded as the group that won their first 38 games two years ago, particularly in the back court. He’ll be playing behind De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk who both play essentially the same role that Briscoe does: playmaking guards that thrive with the ball in their hands. And since Briscoe can’t shoot, he may not be the best option at the three, where Derek Willis will likely see minutes.

In other words, Briscoe returning to school is essentially a two-year decision.

Kentucky now awaits an announcement from Marcus Lee on whether or not he will be returning to school.

James Blackmon Jr. to return to Indiana, Troy Williams to remain in draft

James Blackmon Jr.
(AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
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James Blackmon Jr. will be returning to Indiana for his junior season, the school announced on Wednesday morning.

Blackmon missed the final 22 games of his sophomore season following surgery on his knee in December. As a freshman, Blackmon averaged 15.8 points and shot 46 percent from beyond the arc.

Indiana now awaits word on the decision that will be made by Troy Williams. A junior swingman, Williams has a shot to be an early second round pick if he opts to stay in the draft. There is a report from the Indy Star that he will keep his name in the draft, but the program has yet to confirm that news.

Losing Williams would hurt, but it’s a loss that Indiana can overcome. The emergence of O.G. Anunoby as a versatile defender means that the Hoosiers have a guy that can be a defensive stopper and can allow them to play small and fast. Anunoby also has not proven to be prone to bouts of poor decision-making, which arguably may make him a better fit.