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.

Chris Duhon named Illinois State assistant coach

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NORMAL, Ill. (AP) — Former Chicago Bulls point guard Chris Duhon has joined the staff of Illinois State University as an assistant coach.

Illinois State coach Dan Muller announced Duhon’s appointment Monday, saying he brings “a high level of on-the-court experience and success” to the university’s basketball program.

Duhon resigned as an assistant coach at Marshall in January 2017 after his arrest for driving on a revoked license. His driver’s license was revoked for driving under the influence in 2015.

Duhon starred in college at Duke and helped lead the Blue Devils to the 2001 national championship, leading the team in steals and minutes played. He was selected by the Bulls on the second round of the 2004 NBA draft and played four seasons in Chicago.

He retired from the NBA in 2013 after also playing for the Knicks, Magic and Lakers.

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More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

VIDEOS: New footlocker commercials make fun of Trae Young, LiAngelo Ball

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A new series of commercials being released today by Foot Locker feature the stars of the NBA draft getting roasted.

Well, “stars”.

Because the commercial that is going to get the most play is of LiAngelo Ball, who never actually played in college. Ball, if you remember, was arrested for shoplifting while his UCLA team was on a trip to China. He was eventually dismissed from the program and ended up playing for a year in Lithuania before entering the NBA draft.

And, well, they touch on all of that in this commercial:

The other player to get roasted was Trae Young, who was a sensation for the first half of the college basketball season before a dreadful finish saw him losing 12 of his last 16 games. It was ugly, and Foot Locker made sure to remind him of it:

I appreciate the effort here from Foot Locker, but I have to say that these just are not all that funny.

Michael Porter Jr. says info on hip injury ‘got exaggerated a lot’

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Michael Porter Jr. told the Will Cain Show on Monday that he’s “feeling great” and that the information that made the rounds last week was “exaggerated a lot”.

Porter, who missed almost his entire freshman season after undergoing surgery on his back, cancelled a workout that was supposed to take place on Friday due to issues in his hip. It was reported to be spasms, bad enough that he wasn’t able to get out of bed, according to a report from ESPN. It’s worth noting that the original injury he was said to be dealing with at Missouri was a hip injury, not a back injury.

Porter eventually attended Friday’s team workout, although he didn’t workout, he only allowed teams to have their doctors evaluate his back.

“I got evaluated,” Porter said. “I let the doctors come in and do all their tests on me. I’m feeling good. I think the teams are comfortable, but I might get a couple workouts in.”

“It was just a little sore, so I told [my agent] my hip was kind of sore and he just wanted to shut it down for a couple of days,” Porter said. “And then people took that and kind of ran with it, saying, you know, my hip was injured, I couldn’t get out of bed. None of that was really true. I was just sore and I wanted to take a couple of days off. So that’s all that was.”

Porter added that his back is “normal. I have no issues with it. There’s no risk of reinjury [and] every MRI that I’ve done is perfect.”

2018 NBA Draft: 12 players outside the lottery that will out-perform their draft position

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In three of the last five seasons, the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award was given to a player that was picked outside of the top five.

Damian Lillard was the No. 6 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

Michael Carter-Williams went 11th in 2013.

Malcolm Brogdon? He was a second round pick in 2016.

This season, Donovan Mitchell, who was selected 13th in the 2017 NBA Draft, would be a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year if Ben Simmons had not been hurt last season.

Kyle Kuzma, the 27th pick in the draft, will be a First-Team All-Rookie selection.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at 12 players projected to be picked outside of the lottery in the 2018 NBA Draft are going to out-perform their draft position.

ROBERT WILLIAMS, Texas A&M

I know I said outside of the lottery and I know that Williams is projected by many to be scooped up in the back-end of the lottery, but he deserves a mention here because anyone getting him outside of the top ten will be getting a steal.

The reason for that is simple: Williams has the perfect set of skills to play the five in the NBA. At 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and the kind of athleticism that will leave him in danger of concussing himself on the backboard, Williams has every tool needed to be a rim-running, lob-catching, rim-protecting center in today’s NBA.

NBA scouts saw this in Williams prior to last season. That’s why he was projected as a lottery pick early on in his freshman season, but the combination of returning to school, playing on a team where the pieces did not fit together and dealing with some suspensions and injuries throughout the year limited his production. The biggest hindrance? For a player that needs space to operate, Williams played on a team that had no floor-spacing whose go-to option offensively was Tyler Davis, a 6-foot-10 land-warrior that did all of his damage within eight-feet of the rim.

Put another way, playing in the NBA, where spacing is plentiful and point guards excel at throwing lobs up at the rim, will be better for Williams’ production than playing in college.

One other note on Williams: One of the biggest knocks on him is his work ethic. Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy told me before the season started that the one thing that Williams had been working the hardest on was learning how to work hard. That’s a major reason why there are concerns about whether or not Williams will hit his upside or develop a three-point shot.

He can add nothing to his repertoire between now and when he hits free agency and Williams will, in my mind, be somewhere between Clint Capela and Tristan Thompson by then. If he drops all the way to the Wizards at No. 15, John Wall’s celebration will make Alex Ovechkin’s look humble.

DE’ANTHONY MELTON, USC

Everyone loves hot takes, so here’s a scorcher for you: If De’Anthony Melton had been allowed to play this season, if he had not gotten caught up in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball, we would he talking about his as a potential lottery pick. Melton is a swiss-army knife. He’s 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, an athletic defender that averaged 2.8 steals and 1.5 blocks per 40 minutes as a freshman. His size and length should allow him to defend multiple positions, and his ability to create — 5.1 assists per 40 minutes as a freshman — makes him an intriguing and versatile talent. He was the only player in the NCAA to average 10 points, five boards, five assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per 40 minutes in 2016-17, something that has only been done seven times in NCAA history.

His big question mark is his ability to shoot the ball. That was the major reason he opted to return to school for his sophomore season; he made just 21 threes in 36 games at USC. Melton spent some time working out with Drew Hanlen, who helped reconfigure the shooting stroke of Jayson Tatum and Mo Bamba and is now working with Markelle Fultz to get his shot fixed, and had a full year to do nothing but get his shot right. It looked improved at the combine, and sources at USC say that he looked much-improved before he opted to leave school.

Melton is likely always going to be somewhat limited offensively, but I see him as a perfect fit as a role player alongside a ball-dominant lead guard.

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AARON HOLIDAY, UCLA

I love Holiday as a mid-to-late first round pick in this draft, and I think he has the potential to thrive as the first guard off the bench for a playoff team even as a rookie. The season he had as a junior — 20.3 points, 5.8 assists, 3.7 boards, 1.3 steals — has been underrated because of the disappointment that UCLA was. He’s a point guard by trade, and capable of playing against second-units in the NBA, but as a career 42 percent three-point shooter that spent last season playing alongside Lonzo Ball, he’s also quite capable of playing off-the-ball as a floor-spacer.

He’s just a shade under 6-foot-1, but he’s a good athlete with a 6-foot-7.5 wingspan and is a better defender than he’ll get credit for because of Steve Alford’s inability to coach a team to get stops. Throw in his NBA pedigree — he is the younger brother of NBA player Jrue and Justin — and I think you’re looking at a guy that will spend a decade in the league.

CHANDLER HUTCHISON, Boise State

I love Hutchison’s potential as a scorer at the next level. He has positional size — 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan — and he spent the last year working on improving his shooting stroke and his toughness. His fluidity and shot-making should translate well to the NBA, and I think that he has the physical tools to hold his own on the defensive end of the floor. A late-bloomer with size, athleticism and the ability to shoot the ball should be something that playoff teams are looking for. I’m not sure that he is a starter at the NBA level, but I think he can help a playoff as a role player off the bench next season.

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KEVIN HUERTER, Maryland; MELVIN FRAZIER, Tulane; JOSH OKOGIE, Georgia Tech;  and KHYRI THOMAS, Creighton

All four of these guys fit the mold for what NBA teams are looking for out of a player at the end of the first round or the beginning of the second round. Players with positional versatility, size, length and shooting ability.

To me, Huerter is the best of the group. At 6-foot-7, he has the height to make up for what he lacks in length. He’s probably the best shooter of the group, and he has a much better feel for how to play than the others; he averaged 3.4 assists as a sophomore. Toughness and his impact defensively are the question marks, but what he’ll bring offensively will help to offset some of that.

Huerter, like Okogie, is also very young, younger than Mo Bamba, Deandre Ayton and Michael Porter Jr., and that adds to their intrigue. Okogie is just 6-foot-4, but his 7-foot wingspan, athleticism and ability to knock down perimeter shots makes him an ideal 3-and-D prospect, and his age is the reason why he’s likely to get picked ahead of Thomas, whose profile — 6-foot-3, 6-foot-10 wingspan, knockdown shooter — isn’t all that different.

Frazier is the x-factor. He’s the biggest (6-foot-7, 7-foot-2 wingspan) and the most athletic, but he’s also the rawest. The tools are there, and the 38 percent he shot from three this past season is promising, but sources around the Tulane program have said that number may be a bit fluky, like the 38 percent Josh Jackson shot from three as a freshman at Kansas. He’s a risk, but in the late-20s or 30s, he is certainly worth the risk.

RAWLE ALKINS, Arizona

Alkins hasn’t gotten much as any of the four players I just listed, but he’s a guy I think could sneak up on some people. He’s strong and athletic with that New York City toughness in his blood. He’s not a great three-point shooter, but he’s good. He’s not an elite defender, but he’s good. I do think he ends up in an NBA rotation by the end of next season, which is a pretty good return for a guy projected as a early-to-mid second round pick.

DEVON HALL, Virginia

Hall is a strong, 6-foot-4 guard with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and the kind of defensive toughness you know you are getting from a product of Tony Bennett’s system at Virginia. He shot 43 percent from three as a senior while averaging 3.1 assists. He can defend multiple positions, he can play off the ball and he is a playmaker when the ball is in his hands. As a mid-to-late second round pick, Hall seems to me to be a great fit as a back-end-of-the-rotation guard that will come on the cheap. I think he makes an NBA roster within two years.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova

Brunson is so smart and so efficient and such a good shooter that I cannot imagine him not finding success in the NBA. Before Quinn Cook had the season that he had, I would have pegged Golden State as the perfect landing spot for Brunson. Now, I think he’ll probably slide to the second round, and if the Suns don’t land Aaron Holiday with the 16th pick, I think that might be a perfect landing spot for Brunson at 31. Either way, I think that his floor is Fred VanVleet, who averaged 8.6 points and 3.2 assists while shooting 41 percent from three as Toronto’s back-up point guard.

WHOEVER THE WARRIORS PICK

Golden State needs to find a player that can simply fill a role on the best team in NBA history, and they’ve proven in recent years that they excel at finding those kind of talents. Damian Jones was a miss, but Kevon Looney, Pat McCaw and Jordan Bell all played key roles for the Warriors during title runs the last two seasons. None of them are ever going to be great NBA players, but they don’t have to be: They are on a roster with two MVPs, three of the best shooters in NBA history and four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA today. All they have to do is the job they’re asked to do, and to do so on the cheap.

Whoever the Warriors get with the 28th pick should be able to do the same, whether that’s someone on this list — Thomas, Okogie and Brunson all make sense to me — or a player like Grayson Allen, a shooter that played both guard positions in college and is older and more physically ready for the league.

Penn State’s Mike Watkins arrested for third time in two years

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Penn State forward Mike Watkins has found himself in trouble with the law for the third time in his career as a Nittany Lion.

On Monday, Watkins, a 6-foot-9 forward that just completed his redshirt sophomore season by averaging 12.9 points and 8.8 boards, was arrested for possession of drug paraphenalia. According to a report from the Centre Daily Times, Watkins was found to have a weed grinder as well as three .40 caliber bullets in a team issued gym bag. Police were investigating Watkins for possessing an unregistered gun.

“We are aware of the incident and take this situation seriously,” Penn State Associate Athletic Director Jeff Nelson said. “We hold our student-athletes to high standards and will address this violation of team rules.”

In September of 2016, Watkins was arrested for criminal mischief and eventually ordered to pay nearly $3,000 in fines and fees, according to Centre County court records. Last July, Watkins was arrested for disorderly conduct after allegedly getting into a fight, and that led to Watkins being left home from Penn State’s tour of the Bahamas and suspended for the first game of the 2017-18 season for what was termed a disciplinary issue.