In the biggest game of the Pac-12 season to date, Stanley Johnson scored all 18 of his points in the second half to help the Wildcats pull away from Utah and take home an impressive, statement win against the league’s second-best team. That came just two days after Johnson was in takeover mode against Colorado, finishing with 22 points on the night. For the week, he averaged 8.5 points, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals as well.
Johnson has not exactly had the overpowering kind of season we expected from him when we all put him on preseason all-american teams, but for the first time as a collegian, Johnson truly looked dominant this week. I’m not sure that it’s a coincidence that he played this way after the Wildcats lost to Oregon State last Sunday.
THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM
Derrick Marks, Boise State: The Broncos picked up a pair of massive wins over UNLV and at New Mexico this week, and Marks was the catalyst, averaging 29.5 points.
Pee Wee Gardner, American: Gardner hit a pair of game-winners this week, beating Lehigh with a three with 0.8 seconds left and Lafayette with a runner with 1.0 seconds left.
Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble had 21 of his 24 points in the first half against Michigan State as the Terps blew out the Spartans. He also added 11 points, five boards, four assists and three steals in a win over Rutgers.
Chasson Randle, Stanford: Randle averaged 24.0 points, 3.0 assists and 3.5 steals as the Cardinal knocked off both Cal and UConn at home.
Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Paige played his best game of the season in a win at N.C. State, finishing with 23 points and nine assists.
Notables: Dallas Moore (North Florida), Darius Carter (Wichita State), Alex Hamilton (Louisiana Tech)
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Memphis Tigers
Maybe we wrote Memphis off too soon? The Tigers moved to 11-6 overall and 4-2 in the American with their third straight win on Saturday, a beat down of Central Florida in which Memphis scored 99 points. That came just two days after the Tigers knocked off Cincinnati in a game where Kedren Johnson, for the first time all season, looked like the guy that played for Vanderbilt two seasons ago.
Ever since the news became public that Johnson was going to be eligible to play this season, it was clear that he was the x-factor on a team with absolutely no experience in their back court. And he still is. But with how well some of the Memphis role players have performed in recent weeks, the Tigers don’t appear to be the pushovers that we all thought they would be this season. The American may only end up with one or two teams in the NCAA tournament, and while the Tigers likely did too much damage during non-conference play to recover and get an at-large bid, winning the automatic bid isn’t out of the question.
THEY WERE GOOD, TOO
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish survived at Georgia Tech without Zach Auguste and then came from 12 down in the second half to beat Miami on a night where Auguste played just nine minutes.
Dayton: The Flyers continue to win, extending their winning streak to eight games since the only two players on their roster over 6-foot-6 were kicked off the team.
VCU: The Rams won a pair of A-10 road games last week, including picking off Rhode Island in a game where Treveon Graham had 26 points and eight boards after spraining his ankle. They then beat Duquesne without Graham available.
San Diego State: The Aztecs made it known that the MWC title still runs through Viejas Arenas. They handed Wyoming their first loss in league play — in Laramie — and then landed a come-from-behind win over UNLV.
Texas: The Longhorns badly needed a win and they got one in resounding fashion: by 27 points over West Virginia.
Notables: Kentucky, Iowa, Georgia, Tennessee, SMU
SET YOUR DVR
No. 18 Oklahoma at No. 9 Kansas, Mon. 9:00 p.m.
Iowa at No. 7 Wisconsin, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
Saint Mary’s at No. 3 Gonzaga, Thu. 11:00 p.m.
No. 9 Kansas at No. 20 Texas, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 18 Oklahoma at No. 22 Baylor, Sat. 6:00 p.m.
Stanford’s Chasson Randle continues to grow as a point guard, leader
After playing off the ball for the majority of his first two seasons at Stanford, Chasson Randle made the shift over into the point guard role. In one aspect the circumstances surrounding the Cardinal in 2013-14 made the move a necessity, with Aaron Bright being sidelined by a shoulder injury that would ultimately cost him the entire year (he’s now a grad transfer at Saint Mary’s). Add in the fact that Stanford didn’t have much experience at the position, and moving Randle to the point made sense.
The other aspect to be considered in all of this: while recruiting Randle during his time playing for the Rock Island High (Illinois) and Illinois Wolves AAU programs, Dawkins and his staff saw skills they believed would ultimately lead to Randle moving to the point during his time in college.
“We thought he’d be able to eventually transition to the point guard spot,” Dawkins told NBCSports.com last week. “Of course size-wise he was there, and he showed some instincts with his passing that led us to believe that he could make that transition. And I think that for his future, he knew that [position] was where his future lay if he wanted to continue to play the sport after college.”
And the thought of his basketball future after college influenced Randle as he worked to develop into a better player.
“Absolutely,” Randle told NBCSports.com when asked if it was a move he had in mind before even setting foot on campus. “I knew that for my development and career that I had to develop my skills as a point guard. Coach Dawkins and his staff have done a great job with me and have been very patient throughout the years in teaching me what it takes to play the position, how to manage a game and become that leader on the floor.”
The decision proved to be a profitable one for both the individual and the team, with Randle raising his scoring average by five points per game and the Cardinal reaching the Sweet 16 after going six years without an NCAA tournament appearance. Randle averaged 18.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game for Stanford, earning first team All-Pac-12 honors. Randle was one of two Stanford guards to take big steps forward in 2013-14 with the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player Anthony Brown being the other, and their return is a major reason why the Cardinal are expected to contend in the Pac-12 this season.
When asked where he felt he made the greatest improvements as the season progressed, Randle cited leadership and his ability to manage the game.
“Just knowing time and score, and how to manage a game,” Randle said. “Slowing guys down when we need to slow down, and speeding things up where we need to go faster. Tempo was something I became better at controlling last year. This year, in terms of my growth, it’s going to be about picking my spots and knowing when to hunt my shot and when to find the open guy and getting others involved.”
Interestingly enough Randle’s assist numbers dropped from his sophomore to junior season, an occurrence that can be attributed to two factors. One was that in addition to being the team’s primary ball-handler, Randle was asked to be the primary scoring option for the Cardinal. The other factor: he wasn’t the only player on the roster capable of making plays within the Stanford offense, with three of Stanford’s five starters averaging between 2.1 and 3.1 assists per game.
The assist leader was forward Dwight Powell, and the departure of both he and Josh Huestis has undeniably impacted the next stage of Randle’s development as a point guard.
Randle’s responsibilities as a team leader take on even greater importance as a result of those two departures, with he, Brown and fellow senior Stefan Nastic being asked to shepherd a group of underclassmen that’s long on talent but short on college experience. With that being the case, Randle’s made a greater effort during the preseason to be a vocal leader and help the young guys out, as they’re (especially freshman point guard Robert Cartwright) the ones who will be entrusted with leading the program when Randle and his fellow seniors move on in the spring.
“I have to be more of a vocal leader than ever,” Randle noted. “Dwight and Josh weren’t ‘super vocal’ but together they were just what we needed from a vocal standpoint. This year that’s where I need to come in and be that rock, someone the guys can depend on. And when things need to be said or done, I’ll need to be the guy who steps up.”
Offensively Stanford finished the season in the middle of the Pac-12 in both field goal (sixth) and three-point percentage (fifth), and they were just tenth in the conference in assists per game (11.5). Those numbers will need to improve if the Cardinal are to make consecutive NCAA tournament appearances for the first time since 2007 and 2008. Their crop of freshmen, which includes Cartwright, forwards Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey and shooting guard Dorian Pickens, will give the Cardinal added depth as will Rosco Allen’s return to the court after sitting out all of last season.
But those players will only go as far as the seniors, most notably Brown and Randle, can lead them. And in the case of Randle, his preparations to eventually play the point guard position have also provided valuable lessons learned in leadership. Having taken a step forward in that area a season ago, Randle has continued to build on that in hopes of putting together a successful senior campaign.
“The greatest strides he’s made have been as a leader,” Dawkins said. “He’s capable of scoring, but he had to improve as a leader and learn to be a little more vocal. I saw signs of that last year, and I continue to see signs that he’s taken that to another level this year. He’s communicating even better with his teammates, and that’s something that’s very important at the position.
“You have to make sure your teammates are organized, and that something I see Chasson doing a lot more.”
The importance of elite lead guards was stressed last March when senior point guard Shabazz Napier helped lead UConn to the national championship to cap off a magnificent senior season. Napier’s play on both ends of the floor made a huge impact for the Huskies, especially in tournament play, and it proved once again that an elite guard with the ball in his hands can lead a good supporting cast to glory.
1. Marcus Paige, North Carolina: The 6-foot-1 junior had one of the most impressive seasons in the country last season, especially when you consider many ACC defenses were geared to stop him. Paige averaged 17.5 points, 4.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds and was also the Tar Heels’ only consistent perimeter threat and late-game free-throw shooter. Now that Paige has more perimeter help, he could be slotted at either guard spot, but he’s one of the unique guards in college basketball this season who can set other guys up or hunt his own offense.
2. Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State: Had Fred Van Vleet made the potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last season, we might be singing his praises even more. As it is, the calm and collected junior point guard is incredibly efficient and tough despite standing only 5-foot-11 and not owning jaw-dropping athleticism. Van Vleet averaged 11.6 points, 5.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore while shooting 48 percent from the field, 83 percent from the free-throw line and 41 percent from three-point range. After helping Wichita State reach a Final Four coming off the bench as a freshman and having a hand in 35 consecutive wins last season, we already know that Van Vleet is a winner.
3. Juwan Staten, West Virginia: The 6-foot-1 senior quietly put up monster numbers last season and is a favorite for Big 12 Player of the Year honors. Although West Virginia missed the NCAA Tournament in 2014, it was certainly no fault of Staten’s. As a junior, he led the Big 12 in scoring (18.1 points per game), minutes (37.3 mpg) and was second in assists (5.8 apg) and assist-to-turnover ratio. Staten was also third in field-goal percentage at 48 percent from the floor and also shot 40 percent from the three-point line. If Staten can spearhead a better defensive effort from the Mountaineers, than he could be a dark horse All-American candidate.
4. Chasson Randle, Stanford: More of a natural scorer, the 6-foot-2 senior had to bring the ball up by default for the Cardinal last season once Aaron Bright transferred out of the program. That was fine for Stanford, as Randle helped lead the team to a Sweet 16 appearance while averaging 18.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Randle had 16 games of 20-plus points and did that while shooting 47 percent from the field and 38 percent from distance.
5. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: One of the fastest players in the country, the 6-foot Ferrell is lethal in the open floor and can score in bunches from the perimeter. Last season, Ferrell put up 17.3 points a contest and shot 40 percent from three-point range while also setting up teammates for 3.9 assists per game. Limiting turnovers will be the big focus for Ferrell in his junior season. A 1.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio simply isn’t going to cut it.
6. Tyus Jones, Duke: When the CBT crew voted on the rankings for this list, I had Jones much lower than my colleagues because he was a defensive liability at times in high school. But if Jones can stay in front of anyone on the defensive end, it’ll be icing on the cake for his fantastic offensive skill set. The 6-foot-1 freshman and McDonald’s All-American can hit perimeter jumpers, set up teammates on the fast break, or feed the post. A natural leader, Jones could step in and give Coach K a steady, reliable presence with the ball in his hands that Duke has lacked at times the last few seasons.
7. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky: Credit is due to the 6-foot-6 Harrison because perhaps no player in the country took more of a beating from fans and media during the regular season last year. Despite some erratic play during his freshman season, Harrison turned it up another level during the Wildcats run to the national championship game and expectations will be high for him in his sophomore season. Harrison averaged a solid 10.9 points, 4.0 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game last season but must improve his 36 percent field-goal percentage.
8. Terry Rozier, Louisville: Rozier had to come off the bench last season behind senior Russ Smith but the 6-foot-1 sophomore guard is poised for a breakout season after a strong summer on the camp circuit. NBA scouts and writers raved about Rozier at the LeBron James Skills Academy and adidas Nations and his pull-up jumper and ability to get to the basket are both strengths.
9. Keifer Sykes, Green Bay: Sykes put up ridiculous numbers last season for a Green Bay team that fell short of the NCAA Tournament by falling in the Horizon League conference tournament. The 5-foot-11 senior averaged 20.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game for the Phoenix last season and his athleticism has led to numerous CBT posts this summer thanks to some electric dunks. Scoff all you want at Sykes putting up those numbers in a mid-major league, but the Chicago-native played better against good competition, averaging 25.6 points a game in eight games against 2014 NCAA Tournament teams last season.
10. Ryan Boatright, UConn: Boatright lived in Shabazz Napier’s shadow for much of last season, but the 6-foot senior had a tremendous postseason of his own and he’s active on both ends of the floor. Besides being a pesky perimeter defender, Boatright can also score and distribute and will have more of a chance to have the ball primarily in his hands as the senior leader. If Boatright can improve his 39 percent field goal percentage, he could be among the nation’s elite this season.
THE NEXT TEN
11. T.J. McConnell, Arizona: The numbers aren’t gaudy for the 6-foot-1 senior, but his 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and selfless nature helped lead the Wildcats to a No. 1 ranking and an Elite Eight appearance last season.
12. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: One of college basketball’s toughest players, the 6-foot-2 senior gutted out his junior year despite toe and ankle injuries and averaged 14.5 points, 3.7 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. A healthy Pangos could help vault Gonzaga into a deep March run.
13. Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: Morris didn’t put up huge numbers last season, but his efficiency was off the charts. Don’t be surprised if he ends up being an all-Big 12 player this season.
14. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: To dismiss Ulis because of his 5-foot-9 frame would be silly because the freshman is an exceptional passer who thrives on creating for others. Ulis might not start games at the point for Kentucky this season, but don’t be surprised if he’s on the floor at the end of games along with the Harrison twins this season.
15. Kasey Hill, Florida: Hill has some of the biggest shoes in the country to fill by replacing Scottie Wilbekin, but the 6-foot-1 sophomore is a former McDonald’s All-American who showed some positive flashes his freshman season.
16. Siyani Chambers, Harvard: The 6-foot junior is the engine that makes Harvard go and he averaged 11.1 points and 4.6 assists per game last season. Chambers has helped the Crimson win a NCAA Tournament game in each of the last two seasons.
17. Olivier Hanlan, Boston College: New head coach Jim Christian has to be pleased the 6-foot-4 junior guard decided to return. Hanlan averaged 18.5 points per game last season.
18. Quinn Cook, Duke: Consistency is the big question for the 6-foot-2 senior. Will we see the Cook who finished in double-figures in the scoring column in 13 of the first 15 games last season, or the one who came off-the-bench for the final 10 games?
19. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: The 6-foot-5 senior missed much of last season due to an academic issue, but Grant averaged 19 points and 6.2 assists per game on 51 percent shooting and 40 percent three-point shooting during 12 games last season.
20. Angel Rodriguez, Miami: Jim Larranaga has to be pleased the 5-foot-11 All-Big 12 selection is eligible this season.
ALSO CONSIDERED: Ryan Harrow (Georgia State), Isaiah Taylor (Texas), Nic Moore (SMU), Derrick Walton (Michigan), London Perrantes (Virginia), Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington), Jordan Woodard (Oklahoma), Romelo Trimble (Maryland)