Daniel Martin

Trey Burke

Michigan sophomore Trey Burke sits atop CBT’s National Player of the Year rankings

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A hearty welcome to those of you just now joining the rest of us in following college basketball now that football season has ended. We’ll be running a series of posts to get all you football fans caught up on the season at-large. To read through them all, click here.

Honorable Mentions

Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State (17.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game)

Franklin has continued his upward trajectory this season for the Aztecs, who will need him down the stretch in a loaded Mountain West race.

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State (20.0 points, 6.2 rebounds per game)

The most impressive part of Thomas’ performance this year is that, as the only go-to scorer on this Ohio State team, opponents gameplan to contain him, but he still puts up 20 points per game.

Cody Zeller, Indiana (16.3 points, 8.3 rebounds per game)

With the emergence of Victor Oladipo, Zeller has seemed to take a back seat, but his production is just as consistent. Without his double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds, the Hoosiers would not have beaten No. 1 Michigan on Saturday.

Russ Smith, Louisville (18.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists per game)

Smith has worked to channel his at-time erratic playing style last season into full-on production this year. The Cardinals have hit a rough patch, of late, but he is averaging 19 points in his last two games, both Louisville wins.

Otto Porter, Georgetown (14.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.8 blocks per game)

The do-everything guy for Georgetown has stepped his game up since Greg Whittington has been out of the lineup. A huge double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds led the Hoyas to a win over Louisville on Jan. 26.

Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse (12.6 points, 8.6 assists, 4.9 rebounds per game)

Many picked Carter-Williams to be one of the breakout stars in the country this season and he has delivered. Syracuse has been at a disadvantage without James Southerland, who is out with academic issues, but Carter-Williams is the engine of the Orange offense.

Ben McLemore, Kansas (16.4 points, 5.4 rebounds per game)

McLemore is the center of the Jayhawks’ offensive attack and is the star that coach Bill Self needed after a run to the Final Four last season.

The Countdown

5. Victor Oladipo, Indiana (14.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists per game)

Oladipo might not have the gaudy numbers to show it, but if we’re talking about value, there are few players more valuable to their teams than Oladipo is to Indiana. Not only an offensive threat, Oladipo brings energy and is one of the nation’s toughest defenders. He was key to Indiana’s ability to slow down a big-time Michigan offense and get a win Saturday.

4. Jeff Withey, Kansas (13.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.2 blocks per game)

Withey’s ability to affect the game on both ends of the floor is what makes him so valuable to this Kansas team. His domination around the rim changes the way Kansas is able to play defense and, in concert with McLemore on the offensive end, the inside-out combination drives the Jayhawks.

3. Mason Plumlee, Duke (17.6 points, 10.8 rebounds per game)

The weight of Duke’s NCAA tournament hopes falls heavier onto Plumlee’s shoulders after the injury to forward Ryan Kelly, but he has continued to produce. If Duke wants to make a run deeper than the Round of 64 and Kelly remains out, the way Plumlee plays will likely steer the ship for the Blue Devils.

2. Doug McDermott, Creighton (24.0 points, 7.3 rebounds per game)

McDermott has scored in double figures in all but one game for the Bluejays this season, including a 39-point outing against Missouri State, which he followed with a 31-point game against Northern Iowa. His team is 20-3, including 9-2 in a tough Missouri Valley Conference. If his production keeps up, like many believe it will, Creighton will keep winning.

1. Trey Burke, Michigan (18.2 points, 7.2 assists, 3.1 rebounds per game)

Burke is the engine of an offensive attack that features a number of weapons for the No. 3 Wolverines. He is a simultaneously a scorer and a facilitator. He has worked to become the best player in the country at his position and is showing how wise it was for him to spurn the NBA Draft and return to Ann Arbor for his sophomore season.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

UNLV forward Anthony Bennett leads CBT’s Freshman of the Year rankings

Anthony Bennett
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A hearty welcome to those of you just now joining the rest of us in following college basketball now that football season has ended. We’ll be running a series of posts to get all you football fans caught up on the season at-large. To read through them all, click here.

There have been a number of outstanding freshmen that have been cornerstones of their programs in 2012-13, but a select five stick out, along with some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA (18.4 points, 4.8 rebounds per game)

After the eligibility debacle with the NCAA that forced Muhammad out of the first three games of the season, it took time for the five-star freshman to get into the swing of things at UCLA. As he got more into game shape and became more comfortable in the UCLA offense, the Bruins began to win games and gain traction in the Pac-12.

Isaiah Austin, Baylor (14.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks per game)

The seven-footer Austin is solidifying himself as a Top 10 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, not only because of his ability to score and rebound, but also his willingness to stretch the defense by consistently hitting jumpers on the perimeter. He’s shooting 35 percent from three-point range and, though it’s not stellar, is a major asset for a player his size.

Dominic Artis, Oregon (10.2 points, 3.8 assists per game)

Often the mark of how valuable a player is rests on how well his team plays when he is not in the lineup. In the case of Artis, Oregon has a 1-2 record while he currently sits out with injury, averaging nearly 22 turnovers per game. The Ducks have slipped into a tie for first place in the Pac-12 and will welcome Artis back to the lineup with open arms when he becomes available.

JaKarr Sampson, St. John’s (14.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks per game)

Sampson was originally a member of coach Steve Lavin’s big 2011 recruiting class, but did not qualify and headed back to Brewster Academy for a prep year. Much like his one-and-done former recruiting classmate Maurice Harkless, Sampson has been one of the most impressive freshmen in the Big East.

Siyani Chambers, Harvard (13.3 points, 6.1 assists per game)

Chambers leads all freshmen in assists per game and has the Crimson off to a 4-0 start in Ivy League play. He was perhaps biggest just this past Saturday, when his double-double of 17 points and 10 assists propelled Harvard to a double-overtime win over Brown.

The Countdown

5. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky (10.6 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.6 blocks per game)

Since the day Noel stepped on campus, comparisons to Anthony Davis have been levied on him, fairly or unfairly. He may not have the offensive game that Davis had while with the Wildcats, but defensively he hasn’t missed a step. His 4.6 blocks per game have anchored the Kentucky defense, including a 12-block game against Ole Miss that sparked a Kentucky comeback victory.

4. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State (14.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.9 steals per game)

No one game perfectly exemplified how important Smart is to the Cowboys than his 25-point, 9-rebound, 5-steal outing at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday to lift Oklahoma State to a win over Kansas. Smart does a little bit of everything and should be cashing in on draft day. First, though, he’ll likely be leading the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament.

3. Jahii Carson, Arizona State (18.3 points, 5.3 assists per game)

Carson is the biggest reason why Arizona State’s offense has been completely transformed this season and why the Sun Devils are competing in the Pac-12, en route to a likely NCAA tournament berth. The redshirt freshman is athletic and the offensive catalyst for Herb Sendek’s team. Even in a win over UCLA when he scored just 12 points, he controlled the pace of the game and was a key to Arizona State’s success.

2. Ben McLemore, Kansas (16.4 points, 5.4 rebounds per game)

After Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson left Kansas’ Final Four team last season, they needed a scoring star to go alongside returning center Jeff Withey. Redshirt freshman Ben McLemore has more than fit the bill. Not only can he dance, but he has been Kansas’ most productive offensive player and carried them in key spots. His bank three-pointer at home against Iowa State helped the Jayhawks to a win in dramatic fashion.

1. Anthony Bennett, UNLV (18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds per game)

In a tightly contested Mountain West race, the fact that Bennett has become such a dominant force only bodes well for the Rebels. Mike Moser’s production isn’t what it was last year, but Moser and Pitt transfer Khem Birch, in combination with Bennett, make for one of the most formidable front lines in the country.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Inspiring story behind Tyler Lewis’ breakout game for NC State

Tyler Lewis
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NC State was without point guard Lorenzo Brown due to injury Saturday vs. No. 14 Miami. In his absence, the Wolfpack looked to freshman Tyler Lewis, who had played just 38 minutes through the first eight games of ACC play.

He would be asked to nearly equal that total Saturday, playing 36 stellar minutes and almost leading NC State to a win. A tip-in in the final seconds by Miami’s Reggie Johnson would keep the Hurricanes undefeated in league play, but Lewis’ 16 points, five assists, and just one turnover kept the Wolfpack in the game when they needed it most.

But it wasn’t necessarily his on-court performance that is most impressive. Instead, it is the set of circumstances leading up to the game that give reason for applause.

As detailed in a story in Sunday’s Fayetteville Observer, Lewis played with a heavy heart Saturday, less than 24 hours after the death of his 83-year-old grandmother. He decided he would play Saturday, dedicating the game to his grandmother and grandfather, the man whose words motivated him to remain in Raleigh and take the court against Miami.

“I knew what I had to do out there,” Lewis told the Observer. “I had to prove (myself) to all the people that hadn’t seen me play this year. After this, I think I proved a lot of people wrong.”

To read the story in its entirety, click here.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Five-star forward Jermaine Lawrence commits to Cincinnati

Mick Cronin
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Jermaine Lawrence, a 6-9, 190-pound native of Queens, N.Y., has committed to coach Mick Cronin and the Cincinnati Bearcats, he announced via a series of pictures on his Tumblr page Sunday.

Lawrence chose Cincinnati over St. John’s and UNLV. He becomes the fifth commit in Cincinnati’s 2013 class, joining Kevin Johnson, Troy Caupain, DeShaun Morman, and Jaramee Strickland.

Over the past year, Lawrence has expanded his game out toward the perimeter and become a legitimate threat out to the three-point line. He is long and athletic, which allows him to get to the basket, rebound, and be an active defender. His performance on the spring AAU circuit turned heads and showed the expansion of his offensive game.

The last Top 100 recruit from New York City that Cronin was able to pull to Cincinnati was Lance Stephenson, who played one year with the Bearcats before jumping to the NBA.

Both St. John’s and UNLV had bothed keyed in on Lawrence, who was to be the centerpiece of each’s programs transition-style offense. UNLV has three commits in the Class of 2013, while St. John’s has still yet to secure any commitments.

To see video highlights of Lawrence, click here.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Ricky Ledo to the NBA Draft? Sidiki Johnson off the team? Providence hits rough patch

Sidiki Johnson
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Ed Cooley is building a solid foundation for future success at Providence. He had one of the top recruiting classes in the country last year. His program is moves to a more stable, basketball-only conference soon. But he is running into two major bumps in the road that could set the progress back significantly, depending on how things play out.

As was reported by Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal, redshirt freshman Ricky Ledo is weighing the possibility of not returning to Providence next season. Ledo, a Top 25 recruit from the Class of 2012, was ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA and forced out of games this season. Instead of returning in 2013-14, Ledo could enter the NBA Draft.

“My status is unclear,” Ledo said, as reported by the Journal. “College is a great preparation for life and college has already taught me a lot. I’m looking at every option, both staying in school and looking at the draft.”

Draft Express projects Ledo would not be selected in this year’s NBA Draft, but could go in the late first round of the 2014 draft.

We have seen two key players return to school after being ruled partial qualifiers, Arizona State’s Jahii Carson and Kansas’ Ben McLemore, both of whom are now on track to win Rookie of the Year in their respective conferences.

As the Ledo news came down, Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com reported that Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson is “off the team” to deal with personal issues. Johnson came to Providence mid-way through last season after being asked to leave the Wildcats.

Johnson, a 6-10 native of New York, had been averaging 3.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game for the Friars. He did not play in Providence’s overtime loss to Connecticut on Thursday.

Providence returns to the floor against Villanova on Sunday at noon ET.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Pregame Shootaround 2.3.13: Marquette-Louisville sets table for Super Bowl

Buzz Williams
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Game of the Day: No. 12 Louisville vs. No. 25 Marquette (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Marquette coach Buzz Williams has his team where few expected it to be after losing key starters Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder after last season. The Golden Eagles are competing and contending in the Big East, off to a 6-1 start in league play thanks to increased production from Vander Blue and Davante Gardner.

Louisville comes into Sunday’s game on a much different note. The Cardinals were once the No. 1 team in the land, but have since dropped three of four games and find themselves in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The key Sunday will be increased offensive production. Against a tough Marquette defense, if Louisville can’t score points like it was earlier in the season, coach Rick Pitino’s team could be headed to a 5-4 mark in league play.

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 23 Minnesota (-9.5) vs. Iowa (1:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

The Gophers snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over Nebraska earlier this week, but now they face an Iowa team that could give them problems. I have faith in this Iowa team, one that hung with Indiana and Michigan State before losing down the stretch, and gave Michigan a run for its money in the first half before the Wolverines shifted into another gear entirely.

The Hawkeyes match up well on the boards and can keep with Minnesota when it comes to scoring points. It will be a plus if Iowa can contain Trevor Mbakwe. In a Minnesota loss to Northwestern, Mbakwe was efficient, but the Gophers’ only scoring option.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Lehigh vs. Army (1:00 p.m. ET) 

When star guard C.J. McCollum went down with an injury, the road to a Patriot League title got a lot tougher for Lehigh. But even without him, the Mountain Hawks are 5-1 in conference play and can pull into a tie for first with Bucknell if they can get  a win Sunday against Army. Lehigh already has a big road win over Bucknell, which gives them the advantage in the standings, but expect all roads to lead to Feb. 18, when the two teams meet again.

Five Things to Watch For

1) When Illinois was tearing through its non-conference schedule, the Illini looked like another legitimate contender in the loaded Big Ten. Coach John Groce’s team has now lost five of its last six games, which includes double-digit losses to Minnesota, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Illinois gets another shot at Bo Ryan’s Badgers on Sunday.

2) Villanova has been one of the most pleasant surprises in conference play so far, having beaten back-to-back Top 5 teams. The Wildcats take on a Providence team Sunday that ran Connecticut down to the wire before ultimately losing in overtime earlier this week.

3) It seems that Stanford might have flipped a switch and now become a solid contender in the middle of the Pac-12 race. Dominating wins over Utah and a short-handed Oregon team have the Cardinal closer to reaching its potential, considering the talent they feature on the roster. The more agressive Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis are, the better off Stanford will be.

4) Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell led Virginia to a solid home conference win over NC State earlier this week and will try to carry that momentum against Georgia Tech on Sunday.

5) Connecticut had to grind to beat Providence in overtime, but you still continue to get the sense that coach Kevin Ollie has this program moving in the right direction. They have a chance to improve to 5-3 in the conference with a win over South Florida on Sunday.

The Top 25

No. 12 Louisville vs. No. 25 Marquette (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 23 Minnesota vs. Iowa (2:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

Other Notable Games

Providence vs. Villanova (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

South Florida vs. Connecticut (2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Oregon State vs. Stanford (3:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

Virginia vs. Georgia Tech (3:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Wisconsin vs. Illinois (3:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_