No. 8 NC State and No. 9 LSU have both managed to show flashes of their potential this season, but they’ve also shown a lack of consistency that tends to be a main characteristic of teams that land in the 8/9 matchup. With that being the case, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that the two teams played a game that was both exciting and befuddling.
Anya’s game-winner capped a stunning collapse for LSU, which led by 14 points (62-48) with 9:13 remaining. From that point forward LSU scored just three points, all coming from the foul line, as they missed their final 12 shots from the field. Add in the fact that Johnny Jones’ Tigers also missed their final six free throws of the game, and it isn’t took difficult to see why NC State had the opportunity to come back.
But even with that opportunity a team has to take advantage, and thanks in part to Kyle Washington NC State was able to do so. Washington scored seven of his nine points in the early stages of the Wolfpack’s 18-3 game-ending run, and from there his teammates stepped forward on both ends of the floor.
Trevor Lacey added five points and Abdul-Malik Abu two during the run, with Anya responsible for the final four points of the game. And after being worn out by the tandem of Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey for most of the first 30 minutes of the game, the NC State front court stepped forward when Mark Gottfried needed them most. Add in Cat Barber’s team-high 17 points, and the Wolfpack were able to find a way to win.
NC State has the talent to give Villanova trouble on Saturday, but the key for them will be consistency. They can ill-afford to play as they did for the majority of Thursday’s win against the Wildcats, as that would lead to defeat. Play as they did in the final 9:15 Thursday night, and the Wolfpack have a shot at pulling off the upset.
College Basketball Talk’s Top 100 Players: Nos. 16-1 #CBTTop100
Fresh off a national title game appearance, the Kentucky Wildcats hold the top spot in our 2015 Preseason Bracket – hardly a surprise given the team’s returning talent and stellar recruiting class. If all goes according to the UK’s plan, the Wildcats path to the Final Four would likely go through Louisville and Cleveland in the Midwest Region.
Keeping the top spot won’t be easy. Wisconsin, Arizona, and Duke will push the Wildcats as projected No. 1 seeds. Next in line: Kansas. The Jayhawks have a habit of winning Big 12 titles and putting themselves in the top-line discussion. Some believe Gonzaga has the horses, too. And the Atlantic Coast Conference appears as deep as the once-mighty Big East – which opens the door for more than one ACC representative atop the bracket.
But let’s also remember this … we’re currently working off of blueprints and expected returns. The actual college basketball season is more like the stock market. Teams will have ups and downs. Some teams will outperform expectations. Some will underperform. There will be a surprise or two, and that’s we love it.
What we do know is that come March, 68 teams will begin an amazing journey toward Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. In 2010, that venue delivered an incredible championship game between Butler and Duke, as Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave bounced off the rim as time expired. Let’s hope we’re treated to an equally good classic this go-around.
UPDATED: November 14, 2014 | PRESEASON PROJECTION
Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid. Exceptions are made for teams that use an abbreviation (UCLA, BYU, etc).
Several new bracketing principles were introduced last year. You can read them for yourself here. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.
FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)
Xavier vs. Colorado State | Midwest Region
Boise State vs. LSU | West Region
ST. FRANCIS-BROOKLYN vs. WEBER ST | East Region
STONY BROOK vs. ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF | Midwest Region
BRACKET PROJECTION …
MIDWEST – Cleveland
SOUTH – Houston
16) STONY BROOK / UAPB
16) COASTAL CAROLINA
5) Michigan State
12) Xavier / Colorado State
12) LOUISIANA TECH
4) Iowa State
4) SAN DIEGO STATE
13) GEORGIA STATE
11) Northern Iowa
14) S.F. AUSTIN
7) Ohio State
10) George Washington
2) North Carolina
EAST – Syracuse
WEST – Los Angeles
16) ST. FRANCIS / WEBER ST
16) ORAL ROBERTS
5) Kansas State
12) Boise State / LSU
13) MURRAY STATE
13) UC IRVINE
3) WICHITA STATE
14) CLEVELAND STATE
14) NEW MEXICO STATE
10) Florida State
15) NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL
NOTES on the BRACKET: Kentucky is the overall No. 1 seed followed by Wisconsin, Arizona, and Duke.
Last Five teams in (at large): Memphis, Xavier, Boise State, LSU, Colorado State
First Five teams out (at large): Maryland, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, St. John’s, Baylor
Next five teams out (at large): NC State, Oklahoma State, UNLV, Massachusetts, UTEP
But when it comes to the SEC, that’s about all that we know for sure. Florida should be good, but a number of key pieces are young and unproven. Arkansas might be good, but when was the last time that a Mike Anderson team was anything close to consistent on the road? LSU should make the tournament, but they should have made it last season. Georgia finished tied for second in the league last year, but they didn’t sniff the bubble. Might Ole Miss actually be the third-best team in the conference?
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. Kentucky is so deep they’ll be playing with platoons: I was asked about this on the radio this week, andto really get a feel for just how deep Kentucky is, think about Derek Willis. At one point, Willis was the No. 26 recruit in the country. He’s an athletic, versatile combo-forward with three-point range and probably good enough to start for just about any team outside the top 25. He’s so far down the Wildcat depth chart that he won’t even play in Kentucky’s second platoon. Nine McDonald all-americans. Eight guys that potentially could be drafted this spring. Yeesh.
2. Florida is talented, but quite young: Florida graduated four seniors from last year’s team, including center Patric Young and SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin. In their stead this season will be former five-star recruits Chris Walker and Kasey Hill. How will that pair fare playing much-expanded roles for the Gators this season?
3. Ole Miss is the league’s sleeper team: There is a lot to like about the Rebels this year. For starters, the distraction that was Marshall Henderson is gone, and in his place is star guard and our Preseason SEC Player of the Year, Jarvis Summers. The Rebels also have a big, athletic front line, and that should be enough to get them in the mix for that No. 3 spot in the league standings.
4. Arkansas should be good enough to get an at-large bid: If the Razorbacks are going to make the NCAA tournament, this is the season to do so. They have talented, veteran perimeter plays that will do well in Mike Anderson’s “40 Minutes Of Hell” system, but they also have one of the most underrated players in the country is star big man Bobby Portis. Portis could end up being a first round pick by the time the season is done, meaning that this may be their best chance to dance.
5. The same with LSU, but they should have been last year, too: Once again, LSU will enter this season with a front line that will draw attention: Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin and Elbert Robertson. But the key this year will be the back court of Josh Gray and Keith Hornsby, who will replace Anthony Hickey. The key? Ensuring that back court understands the importance of pounding the ball into the paint for those big bodies.
PRESEASON SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss
With all the talk about Marshall Henderson over the course of the last two seasons it was easy to overlook the fact that the best player on the Rebels was Summers. He may not become a national name this season — it’s hard to do that if you play in the SEC for someone other than Kentucky or Florida — but an all-american team isn’t out of the question.
THE REST OF THE ALL-SEC FIRST TEAM:
Aaron Harrison, Kentucky, So.: Harrison could very well end up being the leading scorer for Kentucky this season. He was inconsistent as a freshman, but he hit three enormous threes during Kentucky’s run to the NCAA tournament title game.
Karl Towns, Kentucky, Fr.: Towns is the most talented player in the league and may be the most talented player in the country, but Kentucky’s depth will limit his playing time and production.
Bobby Portis, Arkansas, So.: One of the most underrated players in the conference, Portis had a very good freshman season that was a bit overshadowed by the fact that Arkansas wasn’t a tournament team in a mediocre SEC.
Jordan Mickey, LSU, So.: Mickey put up huge numbers as a freshman, but it didn’t get as much attention nationally due to LSU’s disappointing finish to the season.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Andrew Harrison, Kentucky, So.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky, So.
Kasey Hill, Florida, So.
Michael Frazier, Florida, Jr.
Charles Mann, Georgia, Jr.
BREAKOUT STAR: Kasey Hill — and, to a lesser extent, Chris Walker — should have big seasons for Florida this season, and Bobby Portis will likely shoot up draft boards as the season progresses, but my pick for a breakout star in the SEC is Vanderbilt big man Damian Jones. He averaged 11.3 points, 5.7 boards and 1.4 blocks as a freshman with the ‘Dores and will be asked to carry the load once again next season.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Anthony Grant was one of the hottest names in coaching when he was hired away from VCU by Alabama back in 2009, but he hasn’t really been able to get things up and running in Tuscaloosa. Grant’s made just one NCAA tournament in his five seasons with the Crimson Tide, and last year was his worst as a head coach, as the Tide finished just 13-19 overall. It would not be good for Grant if his program finishes behind Bruce Pearl’s at Auburn.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The SEC only sent three teams to the NCAA tournament again?
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT … : Seeing how John Calipari will manage his roster and whether or not the platoons will work.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
Nov. 18th, Kansas vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic)
Dec. 5th, Florida at Kansas (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
Dec. 5th, Texas at Kentucky (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
1. Kentucky: I could see the Wildcats doing what Florida did last season, rolling through the league schedule undefeated and winning the regular season title by six games.
2. Florida: Florida’s success this season hinges on the play of sophomores Kasey Hill and Chris Walker. If they play like top ten recruits, the Gators could end up being a top ten team. If they don’t, Florida might not finish second in the SEC.
3. Arkansas: The Razorbacks have a star-in-the-making in big man Bobby Portis and a pair of talented wings in Rashad Madden and Michael Qualls. Two keys for this group: Winning on the road, and finding a point guard to run the ship.
4. Ole Miss: The Marshall Henderson Show overshadowed just how good Jarvis Summers was last season. Andy Kennedy will have a pair of talented transfers joining him in the back court along with a slew of big, athletic forwards. The SEC’s sleeper this year.
5. LSU: Jordan Mickey headlines a talented front court that includes Jarrell Martin and Elbert Robertson, but the Tigers are going to need more consistent back court play. Can transfers Josh Gray and Keith Hornsby provide it?
6. Georgia: The Bulldogs bring back their top five scorers from last season, including Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines, but to move up the SEC standings, they’ll need big years from big men Nemanja Djurisic and Yante Maten.
7. Texas A&M: The Aggies lose Jamal Jones, but Alex Caruso and Kourtney Robertson are back and will be joined by Jalen Jones, Alex Robinson and, if he gets a waiver, Danuel House.
8. Auburn: The Tigers bring back K.T. Harrell and add a number of quality transfers, but most importantly, the hiring of Bruce Pearl has added a level of excitement around the program. Bet on Pearl to win.
9. Missouri: New head coach Kim Anderson will have work to do with this group, but the cupboard if far from bare. I loved point guard Wes Clark in high school, Johnathon Williams III was promising last season and the addition of Jakeenan Gant, Deuce Bello and Keith Shamburger will help.
10. Vanderbilt: Kevin Stallings returns Damian Jones, who is a future all-SEC talent, and adds four top 150 freshmen to the mix. They’re young, but the future is brighter than the present.
11. South Carolina: Frank Martin has the Gamecocks moving in the right direction, as he’s added Sindarius Thornwell, TeMarcus Blanton and Marcus Strohman in recent classes.
12. Alabama: Anthony Grant has yet to have real success at Alabama. He’ll be relying on the influx of talent into the program — freshmen Justin Coleman and Devin Mitchell, transfer Ricky Tarrant — to try and get a tournament bid this season.
13. Mississippi State: Rick Ray is still in full-blown rebuilding mode with this program, but this season he’ll get back a number of key pieces — including Craig Sword — and will finally have some height.
14. Tennessee: The Vols lost quite a bit from last year’s Sweet 16 teams, and while Robert Hubbs and Josh Richardson return, there’s not much else here outside of the distraction provided by the NCAA investigation into Donnie Tyndall.
On Friday night at 6:00 p.m., he’ll be the starting point guard for No. 7 Florida as the Gators kick off their season at the O’Connell Center against William & Mary. Still just a sophomore, Hill is a former McDonald’s All-American playing for the best basketball program in his home state. He’s one year removed from playing in a Final Four, and if he doesn’t end up as an NBA player down the road, he’ll have to settle for getting a free education while competing for SEC championships and national titles these next three years.
Things could be a lot worse, which, unfortunately, is a fact that Hill is well aware of. If it wasn’t for the Simmons family (Jeff, Jennie and their two kids) … well, that’s something that Hill would rather not dwell on.
“I don’t know [where I’d be]. That’s tough,” Hill told NBCSports.com earlier this month. “I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them helping me out.”
The move happened when Kasey was in fifth grade, but if we’re being honest, it probably started when he was about half that age.
“My wife loved him since he was six, he just had that personality about him,” Jeff Simmons said of Kasey. “He was just a great kid.” Jeff is the father of Kyle, a boy about Kasey’s age that grew up in the same part of Florida as Hill. The two were teammates in flag football and YMCA basketball leagues. Jeff? He coached the teams.
As a coach that doubled as the best friend’s father, it didn’t take long for Jeff to realize that Kasey’s living situation was less than ideal. He would spend the weekends with the Simmons family, getting rides to and from their Saturday flag football games, rides that were as much about the transportation as they were a chance to simply enjoy each other’s company.
Eventually, however, it became clear that this setup was no longer going to work for Kasey. This is what we know: Kasey’s father was in prison at the time, and he’s still in prison now. Kasey declined discussing the reason why. Around the time that he turned 11, Kasey’s mother began having difficulties in her life that made it hard for her to raise her son on her own. Again, Kasey — and Jeff — declined to go into specifics regarding what changed, but what they both told NBCSports.com is that it became very clear that it would be in Hill’s best interest to move in with the Simmons.
“It was a mutual agreement between my wife and I, his mom, and Kasey,” Jeff said. “We thought it would be a better environment for him at that time. He kind of felt at home.”
There was never a second thought.
“It was really never a decision that we swayed back and forth on,” he added. “It was kind of an immediate thing: Let’s take him in.”
Bringing another child into a household is not a decision that gets made lightly. Kids aren’t cheap to raise. They certainly aren’t easy to get through high school and to college, and that’s before you even consider how much the dynamic of a household can change by bringing in another kid that is getting ready to hit adolescence.
And the Simmons, they had no idea whether this was a situation where Kasey would be staying with them for a week or a month or, as it turns out, the rest of his childhood.
That’s not even the strangest dynamic at play here. The Simmons are white. Kasey is black. They lived in Eustis, a town of about 15,000 in central Florida, 45 minutes north of Orlando and 90 minutes south of Gainesville. That’s not exactly the most progressive region of our country.
“We’ve always raised our kids where we don’t really see color, but there’s always some looks that you’ll get,” Jeff said. “But I coached basketball, and most of our kids were African-American, so we got those looks everywhere we went. It’s just part of life.”
Here’s the most beautiful part of the story: it worked! All of it. Kasey and Kyle shared a room growing up. They both played the role of over-protective big brother for the fourth member of the Simmons clan, Samantha. During our conversation, Kasey repeatedly referred to the Simmons as family. Jeff affectionately refers to Kasey as “my boy”, saying that he has three kids, “two biological, and Kasey”.
“I don’t think there’s ever been one argument between him and either of my kids,” Jeff said. “Honestly. Never.”
Perhaps more important is the fact that Kasey’s relationship with his biological family remains as strong as ever. He talks to his mom on the phone daily. He talks to his father whenever the calls from prison get through. He wouldn’t commit to Florida until head coach Billy Donovan met and spent time with his mom and his grandmother.
“I would say that Kasey has a tremendous amount of love and affection for the Simmons, and he’s got a tremendous amount of love and affection for his own family,” Donovan said. “For Kasey, both relationship are very important.”
When Angel Rodriguez announced that he had decided to transfer out of the Kansas State program where he played his first two seasons of collegiate basketball, it came as no surprise that the all-Big 12 point guard wound up heading to Miami.
Rodriguez lived in Puerto Rico until he was a freshman in high school. His family then moved to Miami, where he developed under Shakey Rodriguez at Krop High School into the player that Frank Martin brought to Manhattan, Kansas, as the Wildcats’ point guard of the future. Moving to the flyover states meant that Rodriguez would be competing for Big 12 titles with programs like Kansas and Texas, but it also meant that he would be separated from everyone he held near and dear: his mom, his brothers, his girlfriend, all of his friends and family.
It wasn’t a state secret that homesickness is what made him a Hurricane, but it wasn’t just family that Rodriguez missed.
“Now I get to eat spanish food as often as I want,” Rodriguez told NBCSports.com in an interview earlier this month. “That’s a big thing for me.”
On Friday, Rodriguez will be taking the floor for the Hurricanes for the first time as Miami hosts Howard at the BankUnited Center. He’s spent the past week trying to figure out just how he’s got to accommodate all of the ticket requests that he’s getting from those close to him. “It’s going to be exciting to have people you love watching,” he said.
Rodriguez has already been in Coral Gables for a year and a half. He sat out the 2013-2014 season, the mandatory redshirt year that the NCAA requires for transfers, instead pursuing a waiver — one that was fairly attainable — that would have allowed him to be eligible immediately. The prevailing theory at the time was that this was strategically orchestrated by the Miami staff. After winning dual-ACC titles in 2013, the Hurricanes watched as six of their seven rotation players — including all-ACC point guard and current New York Knick Shane Larken — departed. Head coach Jim Larrañaga will disagree, but even with Rodriguez in the lineup last season, a return trip to the NCAA tournament was unlikely. Competing for the ACC title was probably a pipe dream.
So Rodriguez, along with fellow-transfer Sheldon McClellan and then-freshman Deandre Burnett, sat out. And while the end result was probably a best-case scenario for the long-term, the decision to forego a waiver was more the by-product of circumstance than it was a well-thought-out plan.
You see, Rodriguez played through a knee injury throughout his time at Kansas State. He wasn’t healthy when he got to Miami, and he didn’t want to waste a year of eligibility if he wasn’t going to be playing at 100%. “He’s a great competitor,” Larrañaga said. “He wanted to be at his best when the season rolled around. He did not feel like he was last year.”
What that meant was Rodriguez would become best friends with Miami’s trainer, working his way through rehab without having the pressure of knowing that he needed to be ready when November rolled around. According to Larrañaga, Rodriguez sat out most of last summer and didn’t even return to the court until sometime in the fall of 2013.
The season provided an opportunity for Rodriguez to practice with the team, to learn their system and figure out the way that the coaching staff wanted their point guards to operate. This was just one year after Larkin had been the ACC Player of the Year, so it was obvious that Larrañaga would put Rodriguez in a position to be successful.
But over the summer, Rodriguez suffered a setback. He called it an ankle injury. Larrañaga called it a “lower extremity injury”. Whatever it was, it was bad enough that Miami took their team trip to Spain without their starting point guard capable of playing.
“We didn’t want to take the chance again on him overdoing it,” Larrañaga said. “He’s not someone that knows how to give 75%. It’s all or nothing.” It was the right decision — you don’t risk injury to one of your team’s most important players in games that don’t matter — but it still was a disappointment for both the player and the program. Those foreign trips are great for team bonding, providing a cultural experience to the players on the roster and for allowing them to gauge just how good professional basketball is overseas. But it’s also an opportunity for a program to work out some kicks and to get a head start on figuring out things like role allocation, a rotation and how each individual is going to fit into the group.
In simpler terms, teams learn how to play together, and Rodriguez would not be a beneficiary.
As a result, the first time that Rodriguez would suit up with his Miami teammates would be during the fall, in scrimmages and exhibition games. By the time that the Hurricanes go to Gainesville to visit Florida, he’ll have played in all of one game and one exhibition with his new team.
So the experience may not be there just yet.
But Rodriguez isn’t worried. He’s ready to get back out on the court in whatever role the team needs him in.
“If one night they need me to score, I will,” he said. “But I know for sure that every night, I’m going to pay defense and play hard and try to impact the game in ways that doesn’t require scoring.”
And he’s happy he’s able to do it in a place where all of his loved ones can come see him play.
“I left to be close to my family,” he said, “and there’s not a closer school than Miami.”