College Basketball’s Dream Team: The Mid-Season Version

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Over the summer, Raphielle Johnson and I put together a college basketball dream team. But that was before the season started and before we got a chance to see just how good some of the freshmen are and just how much certain players improved — or didn’t improve — during the offseason.

With that in mind, seeing as we’re right around the midway point of the season, here is our new and improved college basketball dream team.

A couple of notes before you dive in: 

– We built this team on the premise that Rick Pitino will still be the head coach. That means we wanted athletes, players that could defend, shooters, and some lineup versatility. 

– This isn’t necessarily meant to be an all-american team. Some of our picks were made with the idea of building a “team”. For example, we both wanted Marshall Henderson here. But with Jamaal Franklin and Russ Smith already on the roster, Henderson got cut.

– We want feedback. Tell us in the comments what you think we got wrong, but don’t simply say “Player X should be on there”. Let us know who should have gotten cut instead.

PG Trey Burke, Michigan: Burke is the perfect fit for us offensively. He’s a distributor at the point that can create for the scorers that will join him on the perimeter. But he’s also capable of taking over a game. If Ohio State has done anything this season, they have proven that Burke is the most valuable player in the country.

SG Victor Oladipo, Indiana: Frankly he’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and this team is going to need a perimeter stopper. Add to that the fact that he’s improved offensively in each of his season at Indiana and this is a pretty easy choice to make.

SF Ben McLemore, Kansas: He’s a big, athletic guard that can defend, rebound and bury an open three. His demeanor and willingness to allow the game to come to him makes him a perfect fit on this team.

PF Doug McDermott, Creighton: Having a versatile scorer at the four is something you need to be successful in international play (if that’s where we’re taking this group). Enter McDermott, who’s shooting 56.8% from the field and 50.7% from beyond the arc, and he’s a good rebounder as well.

C Jeff Withey, Kansas: We wanted to go with defense and rebounding in the middle, and no one is as good of a defender at the rim as Withey.

Bench:

PG Phil Pressey, Missouri: Pressey is the best distributor in the country and a terrific on-ball defender. Simply the perfect fit for this system.

SG Russ Smith, Louisville: “Russdiculous” has calmed down some this season and in turn has become a better player. Still averaging 18.9 points per game, Smith is shooting 42% from the field and is also averaging 2.3 steals per game. Guards off the bench should be able to supply energy and be a nuisance for 94 feet defensively. Russ can do that.

SG Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Smart can do a little bit of everything: he’s a point guard in a shooting guard’s body that can defend multiple positions. He’s also a leader and a winner, and more importantly, a great teammate. He’s a perfect fit for this kind of team.

SF Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State: He’s not the best perimeter shooter (26.9% 3PT) but that’s fine given what else Franklin can do offensively. He’s a bit of a volume shooter so he’ll help more off the bench in that role, and he’s also averaging 10.1 rebounds per game to go along with the 18.4 ppg.

PF Anthony Bennett, UNLV: With his build and athletic ability Bennett can be a game changer for this team off the bench. He’s got range out to the three-point line but perimeter shooting won’t be needed in this role; hit the boards, attack the rim and be an athletic mismatch for whoever opponents place in front of him on both ends of the floor.

C Mason Plumlee, Duke: At the end of November Plumlee was the frontrunner for national Player of the Year honors in many circles. Still on track to be a first team All-American, the senior has the strength and athleticism needed to be productive on both ends of the floor.

C Nerlens Noel, Kentucky: Withey may be the best defensive presence around the rim, but Noel isn’t all that far behind him, and he’s much more versatile of a defender.

Those who didn’t make it this time around: Well, four of the five starters from the original team back in December didn’t make it this time around. Moser’s issue was injury-related, as the dislocated elbow shelved him for a couple weeks and he’s still working his way back to being the versatile offensive threat who took the Mountain West by storm last season. Zeller’s seen a lot more attention from opponents this season, but with the perimeter scorers on this team (not to mention McDermott) we’re leaning a little more towards a defender in the middle. Craft’s a great defender at the point but in Burke and Pressey this new group has a point who can score in addition to getting teammates involved (Burke) and arguably the best distributor in the game (Pressey). As for Canaan, he’s been very good for the Racers (they’ve been ignored some nationally) but we can go a bit bigger at the two with one of the best defenders around in Oladipo.

As for the reserves from that December group, McCollum suffered a broken foot and Tony Mitchell hasn’t performed as well as expected for the Mean Green. As for that Pac-12 trio, Hill’s been good but we can get more scoring from players such as Franklin and Bennett without losing much in the way of versatility and there’s enough shooting to make up for Crabbe’s omission. Muhammad? With Franklin and Smith on this team there are only so many volume shooters a team can afford, so he misses out this time around.

Wednesday’s Things to Know: Grant Williams leads No. 1 Tennessee to OT win; No. 25 LSU, Purdue earn solid wins

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Wednesday didn’t have a lot of major college basketball action, but we still saw a historic performance from a Player of the Year candidate while the No. 1 team nearly lost in overtime. The SEC’s other unbeaten team was also in action while the Big Ten saw a road win with some implications for later this week.

Here are three things to know.

Grant Williams’ huge game saves No. 1 Tennessee from upset of Vanderbilt

The story of Wednesday night in college basketball is undoubtedly Tennessee junior forward Grant Williams. The junior forward and reigning SEC Player of the Year had his signature performance of the season with 43 points and a jaw-dropping 23-for-23 from the free-throw line to lead the Volunteers to an overtime win over in-state rival Vanderbilt.

Getting the basketball world buzzing, Williams dominated the game down the stretch as he willed Tennessee back into a game in which Vanderbilt was hitting a lot of timely shots.

The No. 1 team in the country will stay that way for at least another game thanks to one of the best individual performances we’ll see in college hoops this season. Williams might have just firmly put his name on the national map for the rest of the season as his star power continues to grow.

No. 25 LSU stays unbeaten in SEC with win over Georgia

The SEC’s other unbeaten team, LSU, also stayed that way on Wednesday night as the Tigers put together a solid home win over Georgia.

Sophomore guard Tremont Waters put together a season-high 26 points, four assists, four steals and no turnovers to lead a balanced LSU offensive attack that saw four players in double-figures.

Tennessee, Kentucky and Auburn received a lot of the early-season attention from the SEC, but the Tigers have quietly put together an eight-game winning streak while remaining undefeated in the SEC.

A talented young team with a very good point guard and talented weapons around him, LSU has a manageable schedule for the rest of January before things start to get more difficult during February. We’ll see if the Tigers can keep the winning streak going before facing a big pack of the league’s better teams in a row.

 

Purdue puts together quality road win at Ohio State

In the country’s deepest conference, Purdue earned a very good road win in Columbus on Wednesday night. Winners of four consecutive games and seven of their last eight, the Boilermakers are playing some of their best basketball of the season recently in the Big Ten. Carsen Edwards went for 27 points and the Boilermakers fouled out Kaleb Wesson on a night in which they led most of the time.

At 6-2 in league play, Purdue is a half game behind third-place Maryland — a team the Boilermakers already beat earlier this season. With conference losses only to leaders Michigan State and Michigan, Purdue is also taking care of the other teams in the league while creating some potential separation for a lead pack.

A game against Michigan State looms later this week and that should really give us a clear picture of where things stand in the conference pecking order. Home games on national television like Purdue has with this game against  the Spartans are a huge chance to make a move.

Howard scores 23 as No. 12 Marquette holds off DePaul 79-69

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MILWAUKEE — Markus Howard found ways to score when Marquette needed it most.

Howard had 13 of his 23 points — including 11 free throws — in the final six minutes and Sam Hauser added 19 as the 12th-ranked Golden Eagles held off DePaul 79-69 on Wednesday night to remain unbeaten at home.

“He’s kept me up since Saturday’s game every night just trying to figure out how best to keep him off balance,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said of Howard. “I thought we did to a stretch, but again, his intellect came into play and he drew fouls, which as a 90 percent free throw shooter, he went 15 for 15, which is as admirable a talent as there is to speak of.”

DePaul, which trailed by 14 in the first half, pulled to 56-52 on Max Strus’ layup with 7:31 remaining.

Howard then scored five consecutive points to trigger an 11-point run. Marquette extended the lead to 67-56 on two free throws by Hauser with 3:47 left. The Golden Eagles (17-3, 6-1 Big East) scored 17 of their final 23 points from the free throw line to improve to 14-0 at the new Fiserv Forum.

Howard, who entered first in the Big East and fifth in the nation in scoring at 24.4 points per game, was 4 of 10 from the field — including 1 for 3 in the second half. He went 0 for 2 from 3-point range but made all 15 free throw attempts. The star guard had nine assists and eight turnovers.

“We do need to be more balanced offensively and I thought we were tonight,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “I really thought it started with Markus’ passing to start the game. He really, I thought, made a concerted effort in the beginning of the game to share the ball. When he does that, it becomes contagious.”

Theo John scored a career-high 16 points to go with 10 rebounds and six blocks for Marquette. Joey Hauser had 14 points.

“They’re anything but a one-man group,” Leitao said. “They’re veteran, they’ve been around. Joey’s the only freshman that joined the lineup, but he’s very talented, so that’s why he fits in well. They’re seasoned, they know who they are. They’ve gotten tremendously improved on the defensive end, and then they have a will.”

Paul Reed had 18 points and Femi Olujobi added 15 for the Blue Demons (11-7, 3-4).

DePaul scored the first eight points of the second half, pulling to 40-35 on Reed’s driving layup. John converted a three-point play at 16:20 for Marquette’s first points after halftime.

Marquette finished the first half with a 20-6 run for a 40-27 lead at the break. The Blue Demons went more than 5 1/2 minutes without a field goal until Lyrik Schreiner’s 3-pointer with 30 seconds left made it 38-27.

DePaul hit seven of its first 13 shots but went 4 for 17 the rest of the half.

The Golden Eagles were sluggish early, making just six of their first 21 shots. The score was tied at 18 with 6:32 left in the half as Marquette had seven turnovers to just six field goals.

“I thought we got contributions across the board from a number of guys, which we knew we needed, because DePaul is playing very well,” Wojciechowski said. “They’re a much-improved basketball team and program. Our guys and our staff were very concerned about this game because of how well they’re playing.”

BIG PICTURE

DePaul: After a three-game skid, the Blue Demons had won three of four coming in, including a victory at St. John’s and two wins over Seton Hall. DePaul needs to win just four more games for its first winning regular season since 2006-07.

Marquette: Needs to continue showing improvement on the road. After dropping their first two road games, along with an NIT Season Tip-Off loss to Kansas, the Golden Eagles have posted a pair of narrow road victories, 106-104 in overtime at Creighton and 74-71 at Georgetown. Marquette’s next two games are on the road at Xavier and Butler.

A RARE ZERO

In games when Howard has played at least 10 minutes, this was just the sixth time in his career he did not make a 3-pointer. He entered with 72 in 164 attempts, both team highs.

UP NEXT

DePaul is at Providence on Sunday.

Marquette is at Xavier on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 17 Houston hits 16 3-pointers in 94-50 win over ECU

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HOUSTON — Houston had one of its best offensive nights of the season. Coach Kelvin Sampson was more impressed with his team’s intensity and defense.

Armoni Brooks scored 17 points, Corey Davis Jr. added 12 and No. 17 Houston hit 16 3-pointers while beating East Carolina 94-50 on Wednesday.

Brooks and Davis combined to hit nine 3-pointers while the Cougars (19-1, 6-1 American Athletic Conference) finished 16 of 24 from behind the arc.

“We shot the ball well tonight, but look at who was shooting them,” Sampson said. “Armoni Brooks is an outstanding shooter. Corey is an outstanding shooter. I thought Corey and Armoni and (Galen Robinson Jr.’s) defense and attention to detail tonight was outstanding.”

The Cougars entered the game second in the nation in field goal percentage defense, third in 3-point field goal percentage defense and eighth in scoring defense. They held the Pirates to 32 percent shooting and 2 of 22 on 3-pointers.

“We are a good defensive team,” Sampson said.

Nate Hinton had 13 points, Cedrick Alley scored 12 and Fabian White Jr. had 11.

Houston, which won its fourth straight, shot 52 percent from the field while extending its home winning streak to 30 games.

“We are all extremely confident in one another,” Brooks said.

Seth Leday had 12 points and Isaac Fleming added 11 for ECU (8-10, 1-5). Jayden Gardner, who came into the game leading the American in scoring with 19.8 points per game, finished with eight points for the Pirates. ECU has lost four straight.

“They’re hard to beat when they don’t shoot the ball well, and when they shoot it like that, it’s just a double-edged sword,” ECU coach Joe Dooley said.

After Fleming’s layup with 8 1/2 minutes left cut Houston’s lead to 21-15, the Cougars went on a 26-9 run over the next eight minutes to take a 47-24 lead on Robinson’s 3-pointer with 1 1/2 minutes left in the half. Houston made six straight 3-pointers during the run.

The Cougars led 49-26 at the half.

BIG PICTURE

East Carolina: The Pirates struggled to find scoring as Houston did well defending Gardner. The Pirates took care of the ball, committing 10 turnovers and held a 24-18 advantage in points in the paint. “I thought they did a good job (guarding Gardner),” Dooley said. “I thought they pressured us, and they also gapped us. It shortens the court when you don’t make any shots, and we didn’t make any three-point shots.”

Houston: The Cougars never trailed. They opened 2 of 9 from the field before catching fire and finishing the first half 15 of 22. Houston played well on both ends and was able to keep ECU off the glass, holding a 47-25 advantage. The Cougars continued to pass the ball well, finishing with 21 assists on 29 made field goals.

CLIMBING THE CHARTS

Robinson surpassed 500 assists for his career at Houston, becoming the sixth Cougar to accomplish the feat. Robinson finished with eight.

OLAJUWON IN ATTENDANCE

NBA Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, who played a key role in Houston’s run of three straight NCAA Final Four appearances from 1982-84, sat courtside.

TIMEOUT PLEASE

ECU called three timeouts in the first 13 minutes.. ECU used its final timeout two minutes into the second half.

UP NEXT

East Carolina: Hosts South Florida on Saturday.

Houston: Travels to Tulsa on Sunday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Waters leads No. 25 LSU past Georgia 92-82 for 8th straight

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BATON ROUGE, La. — A little more than a month ago, LSU point guard Tremont Waters went to the bench for two games.

Since returning to the starting lineup in the Tigers’ final non-conference game, Waters has been a different player. He delivered his best game of the season Wednesday night as No. 25 LSU beat Georgia 92-82 to remain unbeaten in Southeastern Conference play.

Waters scored a season-high 26 points, making nine of his 14 field goal attempts and seven of 11 free throws. In addition, he had four assists and four steals with no turnovers in 32 minutes to help the Tigers win their eighth straight overall.

“I was just playing basketball,” Waters said. “My teammates and coaching staff told me to just keep playing and let the game come to me. That is what I did. It was not our best game. Going into the game, things were a little shaky. We were able to pull it out. We have to just keep building and learn from it.”

Waters, averaging 17.5 points and 7.8 assists over the last six games, had a hand in 13 straight points by the Tigers late. He scored 10 points and had an assist that led to a three-point play by Kavell Bigby-Williams as LSU extended a seven-point lead to 12 with 45 seconds to play.

Skylar Mays matched his season best for the Tigers (15-3, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) with 20 points. Naz Reid had 15 and Ja’vonte Smart added 10.

“Tre was great and Sky was great in the first half,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “They bailed us out with their offense. We were able to score at will against their matchup (zone) and their man. We scored 92 points and only turned it over eight times. Our defense looked like it did at the beginning of the year.”

Rayshaun Hammonds paced Georgia (9-9, 1-5) with 18 points. Nicolas Claxton had 15, Derek Ogbeide added 14 and Jordan Harris scored 10.

The Bulldogs made 54 percent of their field goal attempts (30 of 56), including 47 percent on 3-pointers (8 of 17).

“LSU is really good,” Georgia coach Tom Crean said. “They are extremely talented and (Wade) has done a fantastic job of getting a bunch of young guys to understand what it takes to win, and that is to be so good on the glass. Also, when you play LSU, it starts with Tremont and his ability to pass.”

A 14-0 run early in the first half enabled LSU to take control. Trailing 13-8, the Tigers got two baskets, one a 3-pointer, from Waters to tie the score. Smart’s 3-pointer put LSU in front for good at 16-13.

Marlon Taylor made two foul shots and Smart knocked down a short jumper. A dunk by Taylor gave the Tigers a 22-13 lead with 12:07 left before halftime. Georgia got no closer than five the rest of the half. Mays scored 12 points in the last eight minutes as LSU took a 48-36 lead into halftime.

The Bulldogs cut their deficit to 50-44 less than two minutes into the second half. Waters and Reid made baskets to give the Tigers a double-digit lead. Georgia trailed by at least eight the remainder of the game.

ON A ROLL

LSU has won 18 straight home games — tying its second-longest streak in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. The arena record is 23 in a row. LSU has also won eight consecutive games overall for the first time since the 2014-15 season, and five straight SEC games for the first time since a 10-game conference winning streak in 2008-09.

STRONG BACKCOURT

Georgia had no answer for LSU’s starting backcourt of Waters and Mays, who shot a combined 14 of 23 from the field with six assists and no turnovers. Mays was 8 of 8 at the foul line.

LEAKY DEFENSE

In all three of its SEC losses on the road, Georgia has allowed at least 90 points. Tennessee defeated the Bulldogs 96-50 and Auburn handed them a 93-78 defeat. LSU made 50 percent of its field goal attempts (33 of 66). The Vols shot slightly higher than 50 percent from the field and Auburn made exactly 50 percent. Georgia allowed LSU to score 44 points in the paint and 21 at the foul line.

BIG PICTURE

LSU: The Tigers have won their first five SEC games for just the third time in the past 50 seasons. On the other two occasions, LSU won the conference championship and advanced to the Final Four. The Tigers won their first 17 conference games in 1981 and their first seven in 2006.

Georgia: The Bulldogs dropped their fourth consecutive game. All five of Georgia’s SEC defeats have been by double digits.

UP NEXT

LSU: The Tigers begin a two-game road swing at Missouri on Saturday.

Georgia: The Bulldogs host Texas in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Grant Williams puts up monster game in No. 1 Tennessee’s overtime win over Vanderbilt

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Tennessee needed everything they could get from junior forward Grant Williams on Wednesday night as the No. 1 Volunteers outlasted in-state rival Vanderbilt with an 88-83 overtime SEC road win.

Williams, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, played as if the National Player of the Year was more suitable to his needs this season as his dominant 43-point performance had the basketball world buzzing. Finishing 23-for-23 from the free-throw line, Williams essentially gutted Tennessee through a night in which a natural second scorer didn’t easily step up while Vanderbilt repeatedly made big shots with the shot clock winding down.

Not only did Williams lead Tennessee to victory on Wednesday night, it was the surgical way in which he went about torching Vanderbilt’s defense. Once Commodore junior big man Yanni Wetzell fouled out with a little over five minutes left, Williams went to work with a number of quick and decisive scoring moves. Spins into jumpers and runners balanced with post touches through contact that were all seamlessly converted.

And once Williams got to the line, he finished nearly every attempt completely clean — announcers marveling when he even drew iron. It’s only the second time in the history of college basketball that a player was at least 23-for-23 from the foul line.

Although many have placed Duke freshman Zion Williamson as the leader for Player of the Year at this point in the season, Williams is putting up huge numbers for the current No. 1 team in America. On a night when normal running mate Admiral Schofield struggled to only six points, Tennessee was still able to win because Williams got them there.

This is the type of signature performance that people are going to associate with Williams for a long time as his huge junior season continues.