Tuesday’s Sophomore Showcase more evidence how awesome this season will be

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On Tuesday night, each of the nation’s top four freshmen took to the court.

Jabari Parker went for 21 points, nine boards and six blocks in a win over East Carolina, a performance that also just so happened to include his second ridiculous, coast-to-coast move of the young season. Kentucky’s Julius Randle had 22 points, 10 boards, four assists and two blocks, getting outshined by teammate James Young’s 26 points, in a win over UT-Arlington. Andrew Wiggins, who was overshadowed by 16 points and 13 boards from Joel Embiid, finished with a modest 13 points, seven boards, three assists and two steals in a win over Iona, while Aaron Gordon’s reverse alley-oop was the highlight of Arizona’s win over Rhode Island.

Those four teams and their freshmen phenoms have received an overwhelming amount of hype and coverage early on this season, so it should come as no surprise that the chance to see all four on the same night drew quite a bit of attention.

You’d have to think that irked Marcus Smart a bit.

A Preseason First-Team All-American and the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, the attention that Smart has gotten this season has been, frankly, non-existent. That changed on Tuesday night, as he put on an absolute show, scoring 26 of his career-high 39 points in the first half as he led Oklahoma State to a dominating, 101-80 victory over No. 11 Memphis.

source:  It truly was an unbelievable performance. Smart was a terror on the defensive end, getting credited with five steals (which seemed low) and two blocks, while showcasing the intangible aspects of his game that has scouts and writers alike salivating. But more importantly, he gotten into a kind of offensive rhythm that we’ve rarely seen from the sophomore. Twice in the first half he reeled off 12 straight Oklahoma State points, including a flurry of three straight threes that put Memphis in a double-digit hole they’re never be able to climb out of.

(MORE: Marcus Smart throws down the gauntlet)

It was, unquestionably, the most dominant performance that we had seen to date.

The problem?

He wasn’t the only sophomore point guard with a statement to make.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State’s dynamic lead guard, may have done Smart one better. At the very least, he did in the scoring column, finishing with 40 points and seven assists as the Sun Devils went into the Thomas & Mack Center and knocked off a rejuvenated UNLV team.

Carson, another Preseason All-American that returned for his sophomore season, is more-or-less a known quantity at this point. He’s a super-quick, uber-athletic playmaker that is so difficult to keep out of the lane he can still put up numbers like he did tonight despite the fact that everyone knows he doesn’t go left.

I don’t think Smart was the only guy upset about all the attention that the freshmen class has been getting.

Don’t worry, fellas.

We haven’t forgotten about you.

In fact, this budding rivalry between the freshmen and the returners is part of what makes this season so special. Think about it. I’ve mention six legitimate superstars at the collegiate level to this point in this column. Six. With the exception of Carson, it’s not crazy to think that the other five could end up being the top five picks in the NBA Draft.

You know who I haven’t mentioned?

Doug McDermott. Or Russ Smith. Or Gary Harris. Or Mitch McGary. Or Aaron Craft. Or Shabazz Napier.

The list goes on.

There is as much star-power, from coast to coast, as there has been in college basketball since at least the 2007-2008 season, when Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo were dominating campuses across the country. And not only are there stars, but those stars play on really good teams. The general consensus is that the top six — Michigan State, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, Louisville and Arizona — are all very legitimate title contenders, a number that is larger than we are used to seeing. And that was before Oklahoma State did everything they could to play their way onto that list.

Star power. Great teams. Balance. And as good as all of that is, it’s not what makes this season so special.

What makes this year so great is that, on a night where there was this much talent on display, the kid that was the best player to take the court was … Frank Kaminsky?

(MORE: Read about Kaminsky’s memorable night)

If you don’t know who that is, he’s Wisconsin’s newest starting center. He entered the day having scored 26 points this season and 133 points in his career. His career-high in college was 19 points. His career-high ever? 39 points.

And on Tuesday, he stole the show.

Kaminsky finished with 43 points on 16-for-18 shooting, hitting all six of his threes.

Should I mention we’re just 10 days into the year?

Yup.

This is going to be fun.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.

Four-star wing Romeo Weems commits to DePaul

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DePaul landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2019 Tuesday afternoon, as four-star small forward Romeo Weems announced that he will be a Blue Demon. Weems, who attends New Haven HS in New Haven, Michigan, picked DePaul over Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oregon and is considered by most major scouting services to be a Top 50 prospect in the 2019 graduating class.

The 6-foot-6 Weems plays his grassroots basketball for The Family on the Nike EYBL circuit, averaging 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this spring. Weems also has experience playing for USA Basketball, as he was part of the Under-16 team that won the FIBA Americas U16 title last year. Weems will also be part of the training camp from which the Under-17 team will be selected next month in preparation for this summer’s FIBA Under-17 World Championships.

DePaul managing to land a commitment from a prospect of Weems’ caliber, a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions while also being productive offensively, could be the shot in the arm that Dave Leitao’s program so desperately needs if they’re to improve their standing within the Big East.

Since making the move from Conference USA in 2005, DePaul has finished above .500 in a season just once (20-14 in 2006-07) with that also being the only time in which the Blue Demons finished above .500 in Big East play (9-7). Since Leitao, who led DePaul to its most recent NCAA tournament in 2005, returned for his second stint at the school the Blue Demons have gone 29-65.

Getting out of Allstate Arena and moving to the new Wintrust Arena ahead of last season was an important move for the DePaul program, but it’s been clear that the rebuild won’t be a “quick fix.” Bringing in a talent of Weems’ caliber should help DePaul moving forward, with the key now being to recruit well enough to ensure that the talented wing has ample help when he arrives on campus next year.

Among the players currently on the roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019 are guards Devin Gage and Justin Roberts and wing Darious Hall, who will sit out the 2018-19 season after transferring to DePaul from Arkansas. Hall appeared in 35 games for the Razorbacks this past season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game.