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Louisville’s Terry Rozier is ready for his bigger role this season

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Rick Pitino has had a nice run of talented lead guards on his Louisville teams in recent years. Edgar Sosa made way for Preston Knowles who shared a back court with Peyton Siva before Siva’s former running mate, Russ Smith, turned into a First Team All-American this past season. This year, former JuCo Player of the Year Chris Jones returns to carry the torch for the feisty little point guards that Pitino has had so much success coaching.

But none of the five players mentioned above had as much natural talent at Louisville as rising sophomore Terry Rozier, which makes him one of the most intriguing players in the country to keep an eye on as we inch towards the 2014-2015 season. Rozier is not only the best NBA prospect that Pitino has had in his back court in years, but he also just so happens to be the most important player on the Cardinal roster this season.

Let me explain.

Chris Jones is what he is, a talented-but-undersized combo-guard that shoots a little too much and isn’t quite a good enough playmaker. Montrezl Harrell may be the toughest, most aggressive, hardest-working big man in the country, but he still does the overwhelming majority of his damage in the paint and around the rim. In other words, Jones is not going to make up for the offense lost with Smith’s graduation and Harrell isn’t the guy of post player where Pitino can force-feed him the ball in the post.

MORE: Expectations have changed for Nebraska this season.

With three other sophomores and a six-man freshman class devoid of a one-and-done lottery pick on the roster, if Louisville is looking for a game-changing talent, Rozier is their guy.

And to his credit, he’s put in the work to get himself into a position where he can capitalize on that opportunity, as he worked through the invitational camps this summer — Nike’s Point Guard Skills Academy in June, the LeBron James Skills Academy in July, adidas Nations in August — impressing at every step along the way. He was already poised to find his name on just about every Breakout Stars list this preseason, now he’s finding himself mentioned as a potential lottery pick in next June’s draft.

“That’s something that I’m happy I’m a part of and happy to be hearing about,” Rozier told NBCSports this summer. “I don’t really let it get to me much, but I’m happy to take on the challenge. Right now, you hear talk about it but that means nothing if I don’t do anything [this season].”

Rozier was impressive at times for the Cardinals last season, but being stuck behind a guy like Smith on the depth chart has a way of limiting minutes and shots. He averaged 7.0 points, 3.1 boards and 1.8 assists per contest while shooting 37.1% from beyond the arc. He only played 18.9 minutes per game, but in the games where he saw extended action — usually Louisville’s blowout wins — he was impressive. He averaged 14.7 points during one four-game stretch in February, and while that’s not exactly proof that Rozier is destined for the NBA, it is evidence that the talent is there.

The key for Rozier this summer was to continue his growth as a point guard, he said. He may not be listed as the starting point guard for the Cardinals, but Pitino has a habit of playing two leads guards at the same time. In other words, the one and the two are interchangeable in the Louisville attack, meaning that Rozier is going to be spending plenty of time running off of high ball-screens the way Smith did last season and Siva did before him.

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“I learned a lot about [how to run] the pick and roll. That was my goal on what to get better at,” Rozier said. “Just how to read it. I struggle a little bit coming off pick and roll, mainly setting my man up.”

And while Rozier did provide a bit of a coaching lesson on how to play the role of the ball-handler in ball-screen actions — “It’s the first two dribbles that’s the most important dribble when coming off the screen-and-roll,” he said, “one for reading the defense and one for the attack.” — it will be interesting to see how that understanding translates into actual gameplay. Last season, Louisville ran pick-and-rolls on 26.3% of their total offensive possessions, 42nd nationally according to Synergy. That was almost a third of their possessions that came in the half court.

Put simply, Louisville relies heavily on ball-screens, and if Rozier is going to be one of the guys that carries this team, he’s going to have to excel handling the ball in those situations.

Rozier also said that he’ll be looking to play more of a leadership role with this group, which is understandable given the amount of youth and inexperience on the roster, and that learning how to be a veteran voice from Smith and Siva was key.

“They’re always talking,” said Rozier, who played last season with Smith but did a post-graduate year in 2012-2013 and was never actually on the Louisville roster at the same time as Siva. “They still come back to the gym and spend time with me. They’re real good at what they do. They made sure leadership was important.”

Rozier knows that replacing the presence of Smith, both in the locker room and the box score, won’t be easy, but he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“I’m really confident in myself,” he said. “I’m ready to play. I’m ready to do it.”

VIDEO: Michigan State celebrates Tom Izzo’s 500th victory

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Thursday afternoon No. 3 Michigan State rolled past Boston College at the DirecTV Wooden Legacy, winning 99-68 in Fullerton, California. The win was special for multiple reasons, as not only did senior Denzel Valentine post his second triple-double of the season (29 points, 11 rebounds and ten assists) but it was also Tom Izzo’s 500th victory as Michigan State head coach.

Above is video of the celebration, which includes former Michigan State great and current Golden State Warrior Draymond Green giving Izzo a Rolex watch with the words “nice start” engraved on it. As you can tell Izzo got emotional over the entire ordeal, giving thanks to his players past and present for their efforts.

Video credit: Michigan State Athletics

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Fourteen ranked teams in action

Trevor Cooney
Associated Press
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GAME OF THE DAY: Syracuse vs. No. 25 Texas A&M (ESPN)

The championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis matches two teams who arrived in the Bahamas looking to make a statement nationally, and both did so Thursday. The Aggies, who along with Vanderbilt are Kentucky’s greatest competition in the SEC, have experience on the perimeter and some good front court options as well. How Danuel House, Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins navigate the Syracuse zone will be a key factor in this one. As for Syracuse, while seniors Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney have led the way the contributions of Tyler Roberson and freshmen Tyler Lydon and Malachi Richardson should not be overlooked either.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 10 Gonzaga vs. No. 17 UConn, 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Both teams lost thrillers in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals Thursday, with the Bulldogs falling by one to No. 25 Texas A&M and the Huskies losing by three to Syracuse. Now they look to avoid a second straight defeat in what should be an interesting matchup. Gonzaga’s front court size will be something UConn has to find an answer for, but it isn’t as if they don’t have options themselves. Shonn Miller’s matchup with Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer will be something to keep an eye on, as will Gonzaga’s guards taking on UConn’s talented and experienced group.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?: No. 11 Arizona (vs. Providence), 11:30 p.m. (ESPN)

By now we all know Providence point guard Kris Dunn, as he’s one of the nation’s best players. But what makes the Friars a dangerous team now, and moving forward, is the emergence of other options. Ben Bentil’s averaging 15.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, and Rodney Bullock’s been even better at 16.4 ppg and 8.2 rpg. While Dunn’s name may be on the marquee this isn’t some one-man band playing for head coach Ed Cooley. Add in the uncertain status of Arizona senior center Kaleb Tarczewski (left ankle) and the Wildcats’ shot selection in a “closer than it needed to be” win over Santa Clara, and this is a good opportunity for Providence to add a quality win to its early-season résumé.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Monmouth vs. Dayton, 9:30 p.m.

The Flyers aren’t a mid-major, but their opposition is the reason why this game is chosen here. King Rice’ Hawks have won three of their first four games to start the season, which includes wins over UCLA and No. 17 Notre Dame, and the strength of their schedule means that they won’t have any fear of Dayton. Both teams have talented perimeter rotations, with Justin Robinson leading the Hawks and Scoochie Smith doing so for the Flyers. The key will be how Dayton’s front court tandem of Kendall Pollard and Steve McElvene play; if they win their respective matchups Dayton will have the upper hand.


  • No. 1 Kentucky is back in action, this time taking on a USF team (5:00 p.m., ESPN) led by former John Calipari assistant Orlando Antigua. That fact may keep this contest between the high-powered Wildcats and rebuilding Bulls at a respectable margin.
  • No. 24 Cincinnati plays its second game away from home, as they take on Nebraska in Brooklyn. Farad Cobb’s played very well to start the season for the Bearcats, who are a bit underrated nationally. Not only will the Huskers have their hands full on the perimeter, but Cincinnati has both depth and experience in the post as well.
  • Illinois, having already lost three games this season, takes on a tough UAB squad at the Emerald Coast Classic in Florida (9:30 p.m., CBSSN). The Fighting Illini needed a Jalen Coleman-Lands three-pointer to beat Chicago State earlier this week, and the Blazers are an experienced group that reached the NCAA tournament last season.
  • West Virginia and San Diego State meet in the title game of the Continental Las Vegas Invitational (10:30 p.m., FS1) in a fun matchup of defensive-minded teams. “Press Virginia” will look to turn over the Aztecs in the open floor, and SDSU (which can extend its defense when needed) has one of the stingiest half-court defenses in the country.
  • No. 23 Xavier and USC meet in the other AdvoCare Invitational semifinal (2:30 p.m., ESPNU), with the Trojans looking to build on an early-season start that has surprised some people. But while Bennie Boatwright can be a matchup issue offensively as the four, how he competes with the likes of Xavier’s Jalen Reynolds will have a major impact on this game.
  • Boise State will look to do what no one’s been able to do thus far: keep Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine in check (5:30 p.m., ESPN2). The senior guard posted his second triple-double of the season, and he’s got the undefeated and third-ranked Spartans rolling right now. But keep an eye on Boise State’s James Webb III. While he was quiet in their win over UC Irvine, he went for 27 and nine in a loss at No. 11 Arizona last week.


  • Virginia Tech vs. No. 4 Iowa State, 7:00 p.m. (CBSSN)
  • Georgia Tech vs. No. 8 Villanova, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Richmond vs. No. 14 California, 8:00 p.m. (FS1)
  • Northeastern at No. 15 Miami, 4:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • No. 17 Notre Dame vs. Iowa, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Alabama vs. No. 20 Wichita State, 12:00 p.m. (ESPN3)


  • Arkansas vs. Stanford, 12:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • UC Irvine vs. Boston College, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Southern Illinois vs. UTEP, 3:30 p.m.
  • FGCU at Florida, 6:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
  • Winthrop at NC State, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Texas vs. Michigan, 7:00 p.m. (AXS)
  • Ohio State vs. Memphis, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Long Beach State at Oklahoma State, 8:30 p.m.
  • George Washington vs. Tennessee, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN3)