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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.


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.