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.

Jim Larranaga believes he’s ‘Coach-3’ in FBI investigation

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Despite losing key contributors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy from last season’s NCAA tournament team, the Miami Hurricanes are expected to be a player both within the ACC and nationally this season. But instead of having the focus solely on the likes of JaQuan Newton, Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker, Jim Larrañaga’s program is also having to deal with the impact of the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball.

While no one connected to the Miami men’s basketball program was arrested last month, the program is referenced in the FBI report. On Monday, Larrañaga stated during a press conference that he believes that he is “Coach-3” in the FBI report. Larrañaga also maintained his innocence, saying that he had done nothing wrong while also being thankful that none of his assistant coaches were involved.

“It’s been a strain, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually,” Larrañaga said according to the Palm Beach Post. “It’s something that’s there. I have to deal with it. I have the support of my wife and a wonderful family. I have the support of the university, my staff and players.”

According to the FBI report, “Coach-3” requested that payments totaling $150,000 be funneled to “Player-12” in order to ensure his commitment to their university. It has been reported that “Player-12” was 2018 five-star prospect Nassir Little, who has also stated that he had done nothing wrong. Two of the schools recruiting Little at the time, Arizona and Miami, have been entangled in the FBI investigation to varying degrees.

While Miami has not had anyone connected to its program arrested, Arizona assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was one of the four Division I coaches were were indicted. As a result Little removed both Arizona and Miami from consideration before ultimately committing to North Carolina earlier this month.

There’s no telling what the FBI investigation will ultimately uncover, which for the schools involved could take a heavy toll not only for the 2017-18 season but for future years as well. The FBI case has been comparatively quiet since the first set of indictments, with future moves likely to be influenced by what authorities learn from the ten individuals named in the first announcement.

Miles Bridges discusses being offered money during recruiting process

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With the FBI launching an investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball last month, the entire sport has found itself under the microscope. Ten people, including four Division I assistant coaches, were arrested and there’s no telling just how long the FBI’s investigation will last or what information it will produce.

Michigan State forward Miles Bridges is considered by many to be the leading candidate for national Player of the Yeah honors, and he had the opportunity to turn pro after a good freshman season. But Bridges made the decision to return to East Lansing, and with that comes questions as to why he would do that as opposed to cashing in on his NBA potential as soon as possible.

In an interview with Brendan Quinn of The Athletic (subscription required) Bridges discussed a host of issues, including being offered money by people while going through the recruiting process.

“I mean, if you get caught, that might be the end of your career. I wanted to play in college really bad,” Bridges told Quinn. “I don’t know — materialistic things, they don’t really get to me. So when people were offering me money, I would say no right away, because I wanted to be able to live out my college experience. But really, I don’t know, it is hard, especially because I was so young at the time — 17.”

Given the ongoing investigation, high-profile players and teams will be on the receiving end of increased scrutiny even if they aren’t part of the FBI probe. It’s an unfair situation for a player like Bridges to deal with, as even in the actual cases of alleged wrongdoing the players themselves are essentially commodities whose services are being auctioned as opposed to the main characters looking to cash in.

Unfortunately, due to recent events a decision like the one made by Bridges will result in some questioning whether or not the player received something from the school or another entity/individual. And that’s a tough — and unfair — thing for a young player to have to deal with.

Broken hand sidelines North Carolina PG Joel Berry II

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North Carolina’s defense of its national title will likely begin without its most important player, as it was announced on Monday that senior point guard Joel Berry II will miss approximately four weeks due to a broken bone in his right hand.

Berry started at the point each of the last two seasons, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in April as the Tar Heels defeated Gonzaga to win the national title. As a junior, Berry averaged 14.7 points, 3.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game and started 37 of the 38 games in which he played. Berry shot 42.6 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three, with the latter percentage being the best on team amongst players who attempted at least two three-pointers per game.

Berry was named an NBC Sports Preseason Third-Team All-American in late September.

With Berry out of the lineup, North Carolina loses its floor general as well as one of their top perimeter shooters. Sophomore Seventh Woods and freshman Jalek Felton become more important options at the point as a result of Berry’s injury, and the team doesn’t lack for perimeter shooters either with Cameron Johnson, Brandon Robinson, Kenny Williams and freshman Andrew Platek all being capable of helping to pick up the slack.

North Carolina opens its regular season on November 10 against Northern Iowa.

Bill Self’s stance on Kansas/Missouri series remains unchanged

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Sunday afternoon in Kansas City, bitter rivals Kansas and Missouri got together on the basketball court for the first time since 2012, with the Showdown for Relief raising $1.75 million for recent hurricane victims. In what was an entertaining game, the Jayhawks won by the final score of 93-87 with point guard Devonté Graham leading the way for the winners with 25 points and ten rebounds.

Kansas finished the game with five players in double figures, including Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman (17 points) and center Udoka Azubuike (16). On the other side freshman Michael Porter Jr. paced four Tigers in double figures with 21 points while younger brother Jontay grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds off the bench.

However despite the excitement for the two rivals being on the same court in any capacity, Sunday’s meeting was different given the circumstances. Following the game Kansas head coach Bill Self was asked about the possibility of the two teams meeting in a regular season game, and he maintained the stance he’s held since Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC.

“I’m not going to say never, but I don’t think there’s been any change in our position as far as the university goes,” Self said following Sunday’s exhibition. “I’m the spokesman, I guess, on this but trust me, I’m not the only one that feels that way.”

While it would certainly benefit college basketball if Kansas and Missouri were to renew acquaintances down the line, it is understandable that Self — and maybe some others on the Kansas side of things — would have reservations. The programs, even with the arrival of Cuonzo Martin in Columbia and the freshman class led by the aforementioned Michael Porter Jr., are in different places right now.

The Jayhawks have their sights set on a 14th consecutive Big 12 title and a run at their first national title since 2008, Missouri is looking to fast-track a rebuilding process after struggling mightily under former head coach Kim Anderson. Yet with that being said, the state of the two athletic departments during realignment likely has more to do with the teams not playing each other.

Missouri was a school with options earlier this decade before joining the SEC, but that was not the case for Kansas. Had the Big 12 broken up as some believed would be the case, where would the Jayhawks have landed? Fortunately for the school the Big 12 survived the realignment craze, losing four schools (Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Colorado to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten) and adding TCU and West Virginia to get their membership number to ten.

Given that, the best bet for college basketball fans who want to see this rivalry played during the regular season may be to hope for the programs wind up in the same in-season tournament. Even better, how about the same NCAA tournament region?

Top 100 Players Countdown

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Starting on Monday morning and continuing throughout the week, we will be counting down the top 100 players in college basketball on the College Basketball Talk twitter account.

Check back to this page – or to the CBT twitter account – throughout the week to get caught up on the rankings.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team
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