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CBT Roundtable: Most Important Player heading into the NCAA tournament

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In today’s Roundtable, we will each make a pick as to who is the most important player in the National Title race.

Rob Dauster: This pick is easy: Keith Appling.

I’ve been saying it all season long. If Michigan State can get healthy, they’re going to enter the NCAA tournament as one of, if not the favorite to win the national title. Gary Harris is over the ankle issues tht plagued him earlier in the season. Adreian Payne’s foot has gotten better. Travis Trice and Matt Costello have gotten past what ails them. Even Branden Dawson is on the verge of returning from his broken hand.

The one guy that Tom Izzo is waiting on is Appling. He injured his wrist in a hard fall back in December against North Carolina, and it hasn’t been right since then. That was two and a half months ago. He even sat out three games at one point. So the question is: will Appling ever get healthy? Will he ever be the guy that looked like an All-American back in November? Because when he plays that way, it makes the Spartans that much better. He was their closer, their facilitator, finally living up to the billing he’s had since he came out of high school.

If he can get back there, the Spartans will have a great shot to cut down the nets in North Texas. If he can’t, well, they’re still going to be a contender, but as we have seen all season long, they won’t be the same team.

Raphielle Johnson: No. 5 Kansas has steadily emerged as one of the favorites to win the national title, with the growth of freshmen Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins being one reason why. But if the Jayhawks are to win a national title there’s another, more experienced player who holds the keys. That would be point guard Naadir Tharpe, who’s currently averaging 9.0 points and 5.1 assists per game. Back in November more than a few folks (myself included) questioned whether or not the Jayhawks would be better off with freshman Frank Mason at the point, especially when considering how he played down in the Bahamas. But as the season’s progressed it’s clear that Tharpe is the player best suited to run the show.

When Tharpe plays well he’s both distributing the basketball and scoring in an efficient manner, which makes the Jayhawks an even tougher team to defend. And in many of Kansas’ six losses Tharpe hasn’t played at the level he’s displayed for most of the season. In those games he’s averaged 6.0 points and 4.8 assists per game, shooting 37.2% from the field with his performance at Kansas State (13 points, ten assists) being the best of the bunch. Kansas has the talent needed to make a deep run, but they can’t win six straight if Tharpe isn’t at his best.

Scott Phillips: For me, it has to be Duke’s Jabari Parker. Doug McDermott is the Player of the Year, but does anybody actually believe Creighton has a chance to win a title? Duke does have a chance at a title and a lot of that will have to do with the play of Parker.

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The focus for many will obviously be on Jabari’s offensive capabilities — and whether he can consistently score at a high level over a potential six-game stretch — but what about on the defensive end of things? Parker has to be able to score and rebound during the tournament while also having to face some of the best interior players in college basketball as a defender.

Is Parker up to the challenge? That remains to be seen, but as a lifelong Chicagoan, I watched Parker and Simeon win four consecutive Class 4A state championships in Illinois and you just didn’t bet against that dude when it came time for tournament play.

Obviously, the stakes, the level of play and the overall talent is much higher at the collegiate level, but Parker is a proven winner and will be a huge factor if Duke can make a Final Four run.

Terrence Payne: The former No. 1 team in the nation stumbled with back-to-back losses to Boston College and Duke last week. In those defeats, Tyler Ennis shot a combined 8-for-27 from the field. And while he still protected the ball — 12 assists to four turnovers — Duke was able to limit his effectiveness on the offensive end in the Blue Devils’ 66-60 win on Saturday.

What’s interesting about those pair of losses is that Syracuse had opportunities to win, and remain unbeaten. BC took Cuse to overtime, before pulling off the three-point upset win. The odds weren’t in the Orange’s favor with 10 seconds to go against Duke, but it was still only a one-possession game before Jim Boeheim became an Internet meme with his first career ejection.

Syracuse has gotten itself into a lot of close calls this season, and Ennis has been a key reason why the Orange have been able to prevail in many of those outcomes. Obviously the buzzer-beater against Pitt stands out, but it’s more so his decision-making and his poise down the stretch with the game in the balance. Entering that game against Pitt two weeks ago, Ennis had yet to commit a turnover in the last five minutes of a game.

Though, Ennis struggled from the field in the late stages against BC, typically a time where he flourishes. It was likely just a bump in the road in an otherwise impressive freshman campaign. A season which could end in Arlington for the Orange, if Ennis continues to thrive under pressure.

Matt Giles: Scottie Wilbekin is the reason why Florida’s offense is ranked fifteenth nationally. The junior guard, who is also arguably the team’s best on-ball defender, is no scoring slouch – 38 percent from beyond the arc – and his ability to create for the other Gators makes the team a favorite to reach the first weekend of April. Casey Prather can convert off the bounce, but the rest of the squad requires help to boost their scoring average.

The majority of Florida’s offense, when not in transition, is spent either spotting up or using pick and rolls, and Wilbekin is skilled at simultaneously understanding defensive spacing and how to best position his teammates to score. Nearly a quarter of UF’s offensive possessions are jumpers, and of those, 79 percent come from three, so Wilbekin’s passing acumen – per Hoop-Math.com, only 35 other teams are more dependent on an assist for a three point attempt than Billy Donovan’s squad – is crucial if Florida is to remain offensively efficient and avoid lulls, like during the second half against Vanderbilt.

Michael Frazier II, Patric Young, and Dorian Finney-Smith – three Gators whose percentage of shots taken is more than 20 percent – all are talented on offense, but without their point guard to position them in a perfect scoring opportunity, Florida likely wouldn’t be mentioned in any 2014 national title conversation.

CBT Roundtable: Last minute college hoops deals for the NBA’s trade deadline

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Today is the NBA’s trade deadline, and it got me to thinking: What if trades were allowed in college basketball? Why kind of roster adjustments could be made that would benefit contenders? And no, Duke cannot send cash considerations to Whitney Young to get Jahlil Okafor for the stretch run.

We take a look at that in our latest CBT Roundtable:

Terrence Payne: Kentucky sends Dakari Johnson to Duke for Tyler Thornton

Kentucky has talent all over that roster, those blending all those pieces hasn’t gone smoothly so far. The guys on the perimeter have score-first mentalities, so adding an experienced guard like Tyler Thornton could help the Wildcats backcourt. He’s a battle-tested four-year player, who could run the offense, and as we’ve seen in the past make the big shots with the game on the line, providing leadership to a young UK team.

Though Johnson has seen more minutes since the New Year, Kentucky still has Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein. Send the freshman 7-footer to Durham. Duke’s defense and rebounding has improved since the start of the season when that looked like a major concern. The frontline is still undersized and although Johnson may not be the ideal rim protector he’ll have enough size to clog the paint.

Rob Dauster: Oklahoma State sends Brian Williams to Kentucky for Alex Poythress

Kentucky has enough front court depth to support two top 25 teams. I don’t think it’s crazy to say that Derek Willis and Marcus Lee, who are the fifth and sixth big men for the Wildcats, are better than the starting front line of half of the SEC. Oklahoma State? They had a thin front line before Michael Cobbins tore his achilles. Where the Pokes have a bit of depth is on the perimeter, and Brian Williams is probably the one guy that they can spare.

source: APWilliams is the prototype glue-guy for a wing player. He’s strong, he’s athletic, he defends and he’ll hit the glass. He can hit a 15-footer pretty consistently, and he’s not afraid to mix-it-up on either end. He’s exactly the type of wing that Kentucky needs to compliment scorers Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and James Young. Poythress isn’t a prototype shotblocker, but he’s an effort guy with more size than Williams that will give Travis Ford more lineup flexibility. He can go big, using Poythress alongside Le’Bryan Nash and Kamari Murphy, or he can go small and play Poythress at the five. I think Poythress is a better option that Dakari Johnson at this point because he can get up and down the floor better, he’s a better defender and he can play on the perimeter, allowing Marcus Smart and Nash space to do work in the post.

Scott Phillips: Duke sends Andre Dawkins to Kansas for Jamari Traylor

I’m proposing a trade of Andre Dawkins from Duke for Jamari Traylor from Kansas — two 15-minute-a-game players that are of more vital importance to their new teams.

Kansas needs a shooter and at 47 percent beyond the arc, Dawkins gives them just that. As a senior, he’s a perfect shooter off-the-bench to give the Jayhawks an offensive boost with their slashers on the floor.

Duke gets the 6-foot-8 Traylor, an active and energetic presence that plays 15 minutes a game and shoots nearly 75 percent from the field while averaging 4.4 points and 3.7 rebounds. Traylor would get minutes over Josh Hairston and Marshall Plumlee — and maybe even alongside one or the other with Parker at the three and Hood at the two — and provide Duke more of an active punch on the interior with Amile Jefferson.

Duke has Rasheed Sulaimon playing better and they have to hope Matt Jones shoots the ball better with the added minutes to replace Dawkins but with two McDonald’s All-Americans, you’d like to think they can get it done.

Kansas can replace Traylor’s minutes with Tarik Black and more of Landen Lucas, who has had some solid stretches.

Raphielle Johnson: Tennessee sends Jeronne Maymon to Baylor for Cory Jefferson

For Tennessee this is about increasing their level of athleticism in the post. With Maymon and Jarnell Stokes they currently have two players who are more the “bruiser” type, and that can be an issue at times against more mobile, athletic big men. To be fair to that tandem they’ve been better against athletic front courts this season, taking greater advantage of their physicality. But I’d like to guard against this being a problem and I think the mobile Jefferson would help, especially defensively. Jefferson’s a better shot blocker than Maymon, and his mobility makes him a solid defender in ball-screen situations.

And for Baylor, they need to get tougher inside. And Maymon, who’s dealt with injuries and is still a productive and competitive player, would supply that in a big way. Some may ask, “why not send Isaiah Austin to Tennessee instead?” No. Tennessee has numerous perimeter options, and the last thing they’d need is a big who spends as much of his time offensively on the wing (if not more) than in the post. So Jefferson for Maymon it is, and I think both programs would benefit from this deal.

Matt Giles: Providence will send LaDontae Henton to Arizona for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Arizona’s Brandon Ashley added a new element to his game to this past offseason. Before the forward was lost to a season-ending foot injury against Cal, Ashley had attempted 29 threes – an uptick from his three attempts a year ago; a small sample size, no doubt, but a significant one as the 38 percent he converted from deep helped space the halfcourt and prevented teams from sagging and closing driving lanes for Nick Johnson et al – it is not a coincidence that the Wildcats’ points per possession without Ashley on the court has shrunk to one PPP.

Enter Providence’s LaDontae Henton. The 6-foot-6 Henton has the classic old-man game: whether he is pulling up from mid-range or connecting from deep (35 percent in 2014), the left-handed Henton is tied with Bryce Cotton as the most offensively efficient Friar. The majority of his touches in ‘14 have come from the perimeter, and when Henton rolls and spots up following a pick, he is nearly automatic (1.3 PPP). A trade to Arizona would present Sean Miller with a long-range valve, a forward who causes a defensive imbalance because he can drift into a three-point make.

All the Wildcats would have to part with is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. PC coach Ed Cooley is in a bind: Tyler Harris has to play because he is a defensive mismatch, but the wing, per Value Add, is among the team’s worst defenders. Cooley would like to give extra minutes to Carson Desrosiers (the team’s best defender), but the ex-Wake Forest big shrinks the halfcourt. The Zona freshman not only makes nearly 50 percent of his twos, but he is a budding lock down defender, posting a 3.6 percent block rate. A move eastward would give Cooley a player who would boost the team’s defense without any detraction on the other side of the ball.

CBT Roundtable: Game’s on the line, who do you want with the ball?

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At this point in the season, Doug McDermott is the clear favorite for National Player of Year and, in the eyes of most observers, the guy that everyone would want taking a shot with the game on the line. That’s exactly what happened last week, when Greg McDermott drew up the Bill Self’s famous ‘Chop’ play, getting Doug a wide-open look from 24-feet for a game-winner.

Would you believe that was just the second game-winner McDermott’s ever hit in his life?

If you could pick one player in the country to have the ball in their hands, down one on the final possession, would it be Dougie McBuckets?

Raphielle Johnson: Doug is not a bad choice at all, but I do notice that you did not specify that the player has to shoot the ball. For a shooter, BYU’s Tyler Haws would be another possibility for me. But here’s a name for you: San Diego State’s Xavier Thames.

Why?

As we saw last night, he’s capable of making the right decision in late-game situations whether it’s as a shooter or passer. And given his skill set, he isn’t a player who will wait too long and end up being forced to hoist up a challenged shot. And as I noted earlier, despite this desire for “hero ball” and demanding that guys shoot regardless there’s a need to be able to make the RIGHT basketball play.

Rob Dauster: There’s no doubt that McDermott is the best scorer in the country right now. He’s the prototype when it comes to high-usage, high-efficiency scoring. That said, McDermott’s strength isn’t his ability to beat people one-on-one. He does the majority of his damage because he understands angles and how to get himself open.

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I would want the ball in the hands of Shabazz Napier. He’s an excellent shooter off the dribble and as good as anyone in the country at creating space for himself to get off a jumper when he’s isolated. He’s also proven time and time again that he has the, ahem, intestinal fortitude to take and make big shots in big moments.

Kevin Doyle: It’s hard to argue against McBuckets at this point as he’s the best offensive player in the country by far. He’s as cool and as smooth as they come. McDermott seemingly never forces anything on offense, is able to get off a shot in a variety of ways — important if he has the ball in his hands for the final possession — and his ridiculous shooting percentages across the board speak for themselves. Let it be known that I would want McDermott taking the shot in the final possession, but I’ll take the contrarian perspective to stir the pot.

Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier has a knack for the heroics. He single-handedly beat Indiana earlier this season, scoring eight of the Huskies’ final 11 points. Napier followed that up by hitting perhaps the shot of the season against Florida, to beat the Gators 65-64 at the buzzer. As Napier goes, the Huskies go. Unlike McDermott, Napier is more apt to find a way to the basket off the dribble if a jump-shot isn’t there.

Terrence Payne: You can’t go wrong with Doug McDermott with the game in the balance. Even though St. John’s lost track of him, leaving him wide-open McDermott was the reason Creighton had such a big lead, scoring 62 percent of his teams points. But I wouldn’t say he’s the definitive best option with the game on the line.

This question isn’t about who you would want to take the final shot, merely who do you want to have the ball.

I’ll go with Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis. He’s always poised with the rock and he’s been great in games against Duke, made key plays in a win against Pittsburgh and despite struggling at times in the second half against St. John’s, made critical plays down the stretch. Surround him with weapons like Trevor Cooney (when he’s making shots), C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant, I like my chances with Ennis running the show in a late-game situation.

Scott Phillips: Given Doug McDermott’s size, ability to make shots and savvy, I would trust him with the ball in his hands more than any college player in the country down by one point on the final possession. McDermott is a matchup nightmare at the college level because he can hit shots from anywhere on the floor while also working the mid-post and getting to the free throw line. He’d also be intelligent and able enough pass out of it and his Creighton teammates would know how to respond. I’d put it in his hands every time.

CBT Roundtable: Final Four Picks!

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February is right around the corner, which means that we’ve officially hit the stretch run of the college hoops season. 

With a little more than a month left in the college basketball regular season, we figured today would be as good as any to take a look at stretch-run Final Four picks:

Raphielle Johnson:

  • Arizona: The foul shooting is a bit of a concern but I think the Wildcats will be able to properly navigate that when the time comes. Their defensive versatility, with multiple players have the ability to defend multiple positions, is what stands out to me.
  • Syracuse: They need Trevor Cooney to get back to the form he displayed earlier in the season, and they can’t afford another interior injury with DaJuan Coleman out. However with Tyler Ennis & C.J. Fair leading the way I won’t bet against the Orange.
  • Kansas: Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden…and now Naadir Tharpe’s raising his level of play at the point. Deep, with a nice mix of youth and experience.
  • Michigan State: My preseason pick to win it all, I can’t bet against them even with Dawson and Payne currently out. They get healthy, the Spartans will get to Arlington.

Scott Phillips:

  • Arizona: The No. 1 team in the country is just so big, athletic and balanced. It’s hard for me to see a team knocking them off before the Final Four, especially if they stay out West like they should.
  • Kansas: The Jayhawks have a chance to be scary good if Embiid and Wiggins keep improving — and stay consistent — and Tharpe stays steady with the ball. Kansas has played the most difficult schedule in the country; they’ll be prepared for all comers.
  • Florida: Billy Donovan has done it before and with the way this Gator group has persevered through close games, injuries and suspensions, they’ve been tested as much as anyone in the country when it comes to getting through adversity.
  • Michigan State: Much like Florida, the Spartans have dealt with injuries or illness to nearly all of their starting five while also playing a very tough schedule. As long as Michigan State stays healthy enough — which I believe they will — they are the best team in the country and I don’t see how they miss the Final Four.

Terrence Payne:

  • Kansas: The Jayhawks played a tough schedule early in the season, but within the last month the talent on that roster has really developed into a serious national title contender.
  • Syracuse: I like was the Orange have to offer, with plenty of holdovers from last season’s Final Four team and the addition of point guard Tyler Ennis. I’d be more confident in this pick if Trevor Cooney finds his shot again.
  • Florida: Chris Walker is set to join the Florida lineup in the coming weeks, adding another big body to that talented frontline. The Gators have dealt with injuries and Walker’s absence, and have been just fine so far. They can be dangerous with the whole team together.
  • Wichita State: Like Cuse, the Shockers have guys back that helped lead last year’s Final Four run. Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, an Cleanthony Early have the toughness and talent to bring them back in 2014.

Kevin Doyle:

  • Arizona: They are so tough defensively, and Nick Johnson is playing like a legitimate NPOY. Top to bottom, Arizona has all of the pieces to cut down the nets in April.
  • Florida: I still believe we haven’t seen the best that Florida has to offer. How Chris Walker transitions into the rotation will largely depend on whether the Gators firmly supplant themselves as a true national title contender.
  • Michigan: A trendy pick right now, but has there been a more impressive team during conference play? With freshman point guard Derrick Walton nicely filling the void Trey Burke left, Michigan is as lethal as they come on the offensive end.
  • Syracuse: The Orange made the Final Four a season ago, and they are better this season. C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis, and Jerami Grant is a trio that matches up with anyone out there.

Rob Dauster:

  • Arizona: The NCAA tournament is all about matchups. Arizona will never be on the wrong end of a mismatch, not with their size up front, the versatility of Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and the defensive ability of T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson.
  • Kansas: Joel Embiid came into his own earlier this month. Andrew Wiggins has scored 56 points in the last two games. Naadir Tharpe is playing great basketball. If the Jayhawks hit their stride, if everything clicks, this is the most talented team in the country. Oh, and Bill Self.
  • Michigan State: Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling, Branden Dawson, Tom Izzo. They’re not healthy right now. When they are, do you really want to bet against them?
  • Florida: The Gators are elite defensively. Ask Tennessee. That’s before they brought in Chris Walker. They have some issues on the offensive end, but if anyone can iron out those kinks, it’s Billy Donovan.

CBT Roundtable: Who are the National Title favorites?

Bryant v Ohio State
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ROB DAUSTER: I don’t gamble, because when I do gamble, I always end up, ahem, making a donation. But we’re going to be doing a little betting today. I’m going to pick the five teams I think are most likely to win the national title, and you’re going to tell me why you’d take those five teams or take the rest of the field.

My five teams: Arizona, Michigan State, Syracuse, Kansas and Florida.

RAPHIELLE JOHNSON: I’ll take the field. While that’s certainly a quality list you have there, has there really been a team (or teams) who have shown themselves to be near unbeatable? I know what you (and readers) will say: Arizona and Syracuse are both undefeated still. However I can’t say that this season has struck me as one in which we can make a list of five teams in mid-January and say “that’s it.” Personally I believe Wisconsin has the goods to win it all (and even with their consecutive losses I think Ohio State will be heard from as well). And there’s also Kentucky, who may not look like a threat right now but with their talent why can’t they run off six straight in March/April?

RD: I hear you Raph, but if we’re looking at a “young team gelling to become dominant” team, that has to be Kansas the way I see it. Andrew Wiggins is starting to round the corner a bit, aided on by the emergence of Wayne Selden and the dominance of Joel Embiid.

And did you just say Ohio State? That defense, and Aaron Craft, is appealing, but if you want to rely on LaQuinton Ross, go right ahead. Fourth best team in the Big Ten. Yeah, I said it.

RJ: Ohio State has plenty of time to right the ship, and that includes accounting for Ross’ glaring deficiencies on the defensive end. Remember, they had to do the same for Deshaun Thomas last season and reached the Elite 8.

source: Getty ImagesAs for Kentucky, yeah they haven’t lived up the preseason hype. But why can’t they get going at some point in SEC play and ride that momentum into the NCAA tournament? I will say this: of the two young teams I would take Kansas as well. I just believe that this isn’t a season in which we hitch our wagon to five teams right now.

RD: I can get behind that theory, and full disclosure: Kentucky was the hardest team to leave off that list.

That said, I do believe we have a dominant team this season: Arizona. And I think they are easily the title favorite. The tournament is all about matchups. As the saying goes, style wins the fight. Arizona will never be in a situation where they’re on the wrong end of a mismatch thanks to the versatility of Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. If needed, Arizona can go small because those two can play the 4/5. They can also play the 2/3 if Arizona needs to play big with Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley on the floor.

Oh, and should I mention T.J. McConnell’s three-point stroke finally showed up?

RJ: Fair points made there, especially about Arizona’s matchup versatility. And yeah, your three-point stroke is going to reappear when a team practically watches you shoot the ball as USC did McConnell on Sunday night (seriously, what in the world were they doing?). My question is this: outside of his 12-point outing against UCLA Gabe York’s done his best work against overmatched opponents. While that would be great for the first weekend of the NCAA tournament is that good enough for the second and third weekends? I’m a big fan of their rotation and execution, but I really think they’ll need York at some point. But in all fairness, if that’s my big question regarding Arizona the Wildcats are in pretty good shape.

However, they call it gambling for a reason. I’ll take the longer odds if that’s the case.

SCOTT PHILLIPS: I’m going with the field as well, and as close as I am to picking Arizona, I’m still not sold on any one team yet this season.

I don’t trust any of these teams to beat three of the top dozenish teams in the country for their final three games to be a guaranteed title winner. It’ll all depend so much on matchups and the uncertainty of elite young players — many of them freshmen — stepping up big in the tournament every single game.

Just too much of a crapshoot.

I do really like Arizona and I really like also Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin team. Wisconsin can win in the 50s or reach triple digits and they’re a matchup nightmare on a quick turnaround because they can defend and create from multiple positions on the offensive end this season.

And if Florida gets healthy and Chris Walker gets to play, they could be very dangerous as well. The Gators have faced a lot of adversity this season and had different players step up in close games at different times. The Gators will be prepared for anything in March.

RD: I like this Wisconsin team a lot, and I’ve been asked this question a couple of times on the radio in recent weeks: I don’t think I’d put money on Wisconsin winning a national title. It’s been proven, time and time again, that if you don’t have NBA caliber talent on your roster, you don’t win national titles. Find me a team that won a national title without three players on their roster that were either A) Drafted by the NBA or B) Played in the NBA. Carmelo Anthony’s 2003 Syracuse team with Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara is one. UConn in 2011 with Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb is two, although that will change once Shabazz Napier gets drafted. Name another.

Who on Wisconsin is an NBA caliber talent?

RJ: I think Sam Dekker can be an NBA guys once his college career ends, and I agree with your noting that characteristic of national champions over the years. But, I think if anyone’s equipped to get over that “hump” it’s this Wisconsin team. They’ve shown the ability to play multiple styles without getting out of character, although their defending dribble penetration left something to be desired on Tuesday night.

SP: Sam Dekker already rates highly on Chad Ford’s Big Board and they have experienced and talented players at all five positions. Facing an elite interior scoring team concerns me with Wisconsin.

One team that we’ve failed to talk about is Wichita State. Can the Shockers get back to the Final Four and can they maybe win the whole thing?

I think much of that depends on the consistent play of Cleanthony Early, but sophomore point guard Fred VanVleet has filled in admirably.

Where do the Shockers rank among contenders and how far will they make it?

RD: Wichita State’s back court is one of the best in the country. Seriously. I can’t think of five teams who wouldn’t trade their guards for Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton. Cleanthony Early is a bit inconsistent, but Chadrack Lufile’s play inside has been a difference maker the last couple of weeks. I don’t know if they can win it all, but they will not be an easy out. Ever.

CBT Roundtable: Midseason Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, All-Americans

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This week was the first full week on conference play, which means that today’s roundtable is the perfect chance for us to argue our way through midseason awards. Here are the picks:

ROB DAUSTER:

Player of the Year: I know that he’s struggled in his last couple of games, and I know that there are issues on the defensive side of the ball, but I’m still riding with Jabari Parker as the National Player of the Year. That said, Dougie McBuckets is nipping at his heels. How cool would it be to see McDermott win a National Player of the Year award?

Coach of the Year: Another nip-and-tuck battle between a pair of worthy candidates: as far as I’m concerned, Steve Fisher is the National Coach of the Year, but I think I could be convinced that Fred Hoiberg deserves the award over him. Is there actually a wrong answer here?

First Team All-America: There are four obvious picks, in my opinion:

Deandre Kane, Iowa State
Jabari Parker, Duke
Doug McDermott, Creighton
Julius Randle, Kentucky

The fifth spot? That could go to Shabazz Napier or Marcus Smart or Keith Appling or Tyler Ennis or C.J. Fair. The list goes on and on. I think I would lean Napier at this point.

Tell me why I’m wrong.

SCOTT PHILLIPS:

Player of the Year: I love Jabari Parker’s game as much as anyone — I covered him for four years as a Chicago Sun-Times preps basketball writer — but to not give this award to Doug McDermott would be a travesty. Doug McDermott isn’t getting benched in losses for defensive lapses and he doesn’t go into shooting slumps. There’s been one game all season in which McDermott scored under 19 points; Parker’s been 12 and under his last three games. It’s a close race, sure, but it isn’t as if McDermott is playing in the MVC this season and he’s averaging a full 4.5 points per game more than Parker right now. Parker is off to a tremendous start — especially for a freshman — but let’s not cloud our judgement of an award because it is cool to see a freshman get it. McDermott deserves it over Parker all day.

Coach of the Year: I’ll go with Villanova’s Jay Wright for this one. There’s obviously a number of worthy candidates — and, as Rob said, there’s probably not a wrong answer — but we had Villanova as the sixth best team in the Big East our preseason picks — and I supported that — and the Wildcats are back to playing really good Jay Wright ball. They’ve beaten Kansas and Iowa on neutral courts and are clearly the class of the Big East at this point in the season.

All-Americans: I’m cool with the first four picks, but for my fifth spot I’ll go with Shabazz Napier. You could make the argument for Gary Harris over Keith Appling, Marcus Smart had an odd stretch where his scoring was limited — somewhat by choice in some cases — and C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis have both been tremendous for Syracuse, but where would UConn be without Napier?

I’m not just talking the buzzer-beater, but Napier is clearly UConn’s most important player and the Huskies crumble when he doesn’t play well. Appling has played hurt and Michigan State can still win; Smart has had quiet stretches and the Cowboys have won because the sum of their parts; and Ennis and Fair still have Jerami Grant and a great supporting cast. Napier doesn’t have that much support on a nightly basis. UConn would be completely lost without him and that’s why he merits my fifth and final spot.

RAPHIELLE JOHNSON:

Player of the Year: Yeah, I’m with the McDermott pick and defense really doesn’t have much to do with it. Neither is the second coming of famed “Jordan stopper” (haha) Gerald Wilkins, so while that end of the floor does matter very rarely does an elite defender win POY unless he’s a player like a Ralph Sampson on Patrick Ewing. That being said, have you guys looked at McDermott’s percentages? 48.4% from the field, 42.9% from three and 90.6% from the foul line. Not to be biased here given our “Chase for 180” series, but that’s pretty doggone good. I like what Parker’s done overall this season, and he’s a clear-cut first team All-American (this current two-game stretch isn’t the norm for him), but for Player of the Year I’ll take McDermott.

Coach of the Year: While I’m certainly big on both Fisher and Hoiberg here’s another name to consider: Jim Boeheim. I know many will go with the “well look how good his team is, no kidding they’re undefeated” retort, but yeah let’s look at his team. Specifically a backcourt that really needed to step up given their heavy personnel losses on the perimeter, and thus far Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney have done just that. We all knew Syracuse would be good, maybe with a loss or two by this point in the season. But I’m not in favor of using that against a coach when discussing these honors.

First Team All-America: And for Rob’s fifth guy on his All-America team, might it be necessary to consider UCLA’s Kyle Anderson? He may not score at the rate of the other possibilities, and given the other options that really isn’t his job. But to be averaging 14.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game underlines just how versatile the sophomore playmaker is. And his percentages: 51.6% from the field, 54.5% from three and a respectable (albeit, not elite) 75.4% from the foul line. I wouldn’t be mad with any of the possibilities listed, and would likely lean in favor of Napier given how important he is to UConn, but Kyle’s name should be in the discussion.

TERRENCE PAYNE:

Player of the Year: Doug McDermott. Ironic, right? In a season that’s all about freshmen, a senior is going walk away with the player of the year honors. But McDermott’s earned it. And it’s not like this is a shocking pick by any means.

Coach of the Year: There are so many candidates halfway through the season and all of them have really good cases. I’ll go with Bo Ryan of Wisconsin. The Badgers are currently undefeated and are one of the top teams in the nation’s best conference. Is he going to remain undefeated? No. But he’s exceed expectations this so far, and he has done a great job with this group of players. Did you know Wisconsin has won games by scoring 103 points and 48 points?

First Team All-America: Again, lot of candidates with valid arguments, but I see Marcus Smart rounding out the first team. Like Napier he’s so important to his team. He had one of the season’s best single-game performances in a win over Memphis. His numbers were a bit down following the rematch against Memphis, but he bounced back for 24 points and 11 rebounds in the Cowboys last win.

KEVIN DOYLE:

Player of the Year: It’s hard to disagree with McDermott. He is the best offensive player of the country, bar none — no one can score in the variety of ways he can. However, I am going to take the contrarian route, to an extent, and side with DeAndre Kane. It’s clear, based on his play through the non-conference, that he was the most significant transfer over the summer months. Kane is the primary reason Iowa State is undefeated and has surged into the Top 10. A 6-foot-4 point guard who does it all on the floor and stuffs the stat sheet each night to the tune of 16.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 6.3 apg, and 1.5 spg. He’s hardly a proficient jump-shooter, but has a knack for getting to the rim in the Cyclones’ high octane offense. More importantly, however, he manages the Iowa State — ranked 10th in efficiency, per KenPom.com — exceptionally well.

Coach of the Year: Wisconsin graduated two of their three leading scorers from a season ago, but Bo Ryan has the Bagers back to where they seemingly always are every year — and then some. What is so impressive about this Wisconsin team is their ability to win in a multitude of ways. Whether it’s grinding a game out and playing at a snail’s pace against Virginia, or throwing up 95 points against Illinois, Ryan has Wisconsin looking as good as the 2007-08 squad that won 31 games. He’s doing all of this with players that are unique to the offensive system he has built, and would not be nearly as effective elsewhere. Truly, one of the best coaches in the business.

First Team All-America: How about Florida’s Casey Prather? Prather was nothing more than a mere role player for his first three seasons at Florida, but has developed into the Gators’ best offensive player as a senior. Florida’s roster has been in flux for much of the season with Scottie Wilbekin, Kasey Hill, and Dorian Finney-Smith all being in and out of the lineup, but Prather has been the one constant. Averaging 17 points, 5.5 rebounds and shooting 62.4% FG, Prather is the primary reason why I am so high on Florida.