While many anticipated that Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, who’s expected to be a top five pick, would enter the 2015 NBA Draft nothing had been announced with the NBA’s early entry deadline less than a week away. Wednesday afternoon it was reported by ESPN.com that Russell will indeed forego his final three seasons of eligibility, with the talented guard providing a quote as well.
“This was a hard decision because I knew I could come back and play with my teammates who I love, and to be coached by coach Thad Matta again would have been awesome, but at the same time I wanted to pursue my dream of playing in the NBA,” Russell told ESPN.com on Wednesday. “I know what I am capable of and the sky’s the limit with effort. I know I have a lot to work on.”
In his lone season as a Buckeye, Russell played both on and off the ball and was one of the best players (not just freshmen) in the country. The Montverde Academy product led Thad Matta’s team to the NCAA tournament Round of 32, averaging 19.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game.
With the seniors, led by guards Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson, and Russell moving on Ohio State will be a very young team next season. Rising junior forward Marc Loving will be their lone scholarship upperclassman, and on the perimeter freshmen A.J. Harris, JaQuan Lyle and Austin Grandstaff and sophomore Kam Williams will be key players as the Buckeyes look to account for their personnel losses.
A 6-foot-5 combo-guard, Russell is a talented scorer and playmaker that can rebound well for his size and should be a capable defender at the next level. He’s not a pure point guard, but he’s also not a natural shooting guard, falling into that combo-guard category.
Russell’s departure will hurt Ohio State in the sense that few expected him to truly be a one-and-done candidate when he arrived in Columbus, but they bring in another terrific recruiting class to help replace him and seniors Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson and Amir Williams.
The class is five deep, headlined by five-star combo-guard JaQuan Lyle. Thad Matta landed four other four star recruits as well — Austin Grandstaff, Daniel Giddens, A.J. Harris and Mickey Mitchell.
Frank Kaminsky, Jahlil Okafor highlight five Wooden Award finalists
The John R. Wooden Award announced five finalists for the nation’s most outstanding college basketball player on Monday.
The group is highlighted by three players who will participate in the Final Four. Wisconsin senior center Frank Kaminsky, Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky junior center Willie Cauley-Stein, Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant and Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell are the five finalists.
The winner will be announced April 10 at 8 p.m. ET on the College Basketball Awards Show.
The Wooden All-Americans were also announced, with Wichita State junior guard Ron Baker, Northern Iowa senior forward Seth Tuttle, Virginia junior guard Malcolm Brogdon, Utah senior guard Delon Wright and Gonzaga junior Kyle Wiltjer joining the five national player of the year candidates.
T.J. McConnell, Gabe York lead No. 2 Arizona past No. 10 Ohio State
Entering Saturday’s Round of 32 matchup between No. 2 Arizona and No. 10 Ohio State, most of the attention was focused on the two elite freshmen (Arizona’s Stanley Johnson and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell) and the fact that Russell was expected to see a lot of one of the nation’s top defenders in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. But as the game played out one thing became clear: Arizona senior point guard T.J. McConnell was the best player on the floor in Portland.
While his name may not be tossed around as frequently by NBA scouts as the three players above, McConnell is an incredibly important piece for Sean Miller’s Wildcats. And in their 73-58 win over the Buckeyes, thus earning a third straight Sweet 16 appearance, the Pittsburgh native’s fingerprints were all over the game.
McConnell finished with 19 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals, becoming the first Pac-12 player since Jason Kidd in 1993 to post a line of at least 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and five steals in an NCAA tournament game. He’s been the leader all season for Arizona, and when they struggled to crack Ohio State’s matchup zone in the first half McConnell accounted for eight points to help the Wildcats take a one-point lead into the half.
In the second half another Arizona guard, junior Gabe York, stepped forward and the Wildcats were able to pull away as a result. York scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half, shooting 4-for-7 from three (he made five for the game), and Ohio State’s inability to find him proved to be their downfall.
York was responsible for five of Arizona’s seven three-pointers, and that was a critical contribution considering the fact that the Wildcats shot a slightly higher percentage from three (36.8 percent) than from two (36.4 percent). The combination of York, McConnell, 20 points off of 12 Ohio State turnovers and a commanding performance on the boards proved to be too much for Thad Matta’s team to overcome.
And that doesn’t even take into consideration the rough evening Russell had shooting the basketball.
Arizona threw multiple players (mainly Hollis-Jefferson and McConnell) at Russell and he was unable to get anything going, finishing with nine points, seven rebounds and six assists while shooting 3-for-19 from the field. Seniors Sam Thompson (18 points) and Shannon Scott (ten) reached double figures, but with their best scorer kept in check Ohio State couldn’t keep up once Arizona managed to crack the zone.
Next up for Arizona is either No. 6 Xavier, Miller’s last employer before he took the Arizona job in 2009, or No. 14 Georgia State Thursday night in Los Angeles.
Kaminsky has greatly outperformed expectations he had entering the season, even though he was a preseason all-american pick. He’s been sensational, leading the Badgers in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks and steals. Not bad for a guy that averaged 10 minutes as a sophomore.
Jahlil Okafor, Duke (17.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg)
Okafor is an easy pick as well, as he was the most dominating offensive force in the country this season. To get an idea of just how good he can be, think about this: He’s not just a poor defender, he can be downright awful at times, and yet he’s going to finish the season as a consensus first team all-american and the runner-up to Kaminsky in the Player of the Year voting. Not bad.
D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (19.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.2 apg)
If Kaminsky has been the nation’s best player and Okafor has been the most dominating offensive force, than Russell has to be the nation’s most entertaining player. He can take over a game with his ability to score, and he throws some absurd passes in transition. Can he be this year’s Shabazz Napier in the NCAA tournament?
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame (16.8 ppg, 6.7 apg)
The Irish have no business being a top ten team this season, but they are because Grant has been incredible. Notre Dame has one of the most potent offensive attacks in the country, and it all centers around Grant’s ability to make plays off the dribble and in ball-screen actions. He’s better than anyone else in the country at making his teammate’s better.
Cauley-Stein’s numbers don’t measure up to anyone else on the first team, but what he does best doesn’t necessarily show up in the scorebook. The Wildcats are downright dominant on the defensive end of the floor, and Cauley-Stein is the engine that drives them. He’s the best perimeter and the best interior defender in the country all at the same time.
NBCSPORTS.COM’S SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
Delon Wright, Utah (14.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.1 spg): Wright did so much for Utah this season, and while his numbers were impressive, it was his defense and ability to understand his strengths offensively that were most important to the Utes.
Kris Dunn, Providence (15.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 7.4 apg): The only reason Dunn isn’t in the conversation for National Player of the Year is that he turns the ball over too much. He was completely dominant at times this season.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (17.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg): Hield has a rep for being one of the nation’s best defenders, dating back to his freshman season. Now he’s also one of the best wing scorers.
Rico Gathers, Baylor (11.6 ppg, 11.7 rpg): Gathers is the nation’s best rebounder, an improving scorer on the block and a critical component for arguably the nation’s most surprising team.
Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse (17.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.5 bpg): He won’t get to showcase his ability this March, but there was not a more improved player in the country than Christmas this season.
NBCSPORTS.COM’S THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
T.J. McConnell, Arizona (9.6 ppg, 6.3 apg, 2.1 spg): McConnell’s numbers are nowhere near as impressive as the other lead guards here, but if you watched Arizona play over the last two months, you understand just how important he was to that team’s success.
Melo Trimble, Maryland (16.1 ppg, 3.1 apg): Maryland is ranked 31st in KenPom. Yet, they’re a top ten team that’s going to be a top four seed because they’re 11-0 in games decided by six points or less. Trimble is their ‘closer’. He earned this spot.
Justin Anderson, Virginia (13.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 48.5% 3PT): Anderson was in the mix for first team all-american when he broke his finger. He deserves recognition despite missing time.
Bobby Portis, Arkansas (17.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg): I was called out by an Arkansas assistant coach for having Bobby Portis ranked 62nd in our top 100 players list in the preseason. That coach was right.
Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa (15.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.3 apg): I’m fully on the Tuttle bandwagon. He’s a low-post scorer with three point range, the ability to put the ball on the floor and terrific vision. He’s Frank Kaminsky 2.0.