Louisville’s Terry Rozier is ready for his bigger role this season

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Rick Pitino has had a nice run of talented lead guards on his Louisville teams in recent years. Edgar Sosa made way for Preston Knowles who shared a back court with Peyton Siva before Siva’s former running mate, Russ Smith, turned into a First Team All-American this past season. This year, former JuCo Player of the Year Chris Jones returns to carry the torch for the feisty little point guards that Pitino has had so much success coaching.

But none of the five players mentioned above had as much natural talent at Louisville as rising sophomore Terry Rozier, which makes him one of the most intriguing players in the country to keep an eye on as we inch towards the 2014-2015 season. Rozier is not only the best NBA prospect that Pitino has had in his back court in years, but he also just so happens to be the most important player on the Cardinal roster this season.

Let me explain.

Chris Jones is what he is, a talented-but-undersized combo-guard that shoots a little too much and isn’t quite a good enough playmaker. Montrezl Harrell may be the toughest, most aggressive, hardest-working big man in the country, but he still does the overwhelming majority of his damage in the paint and around the rim. In other words, Jones is not going to make up for the offense lost with Smith’s graduation and Harrell isn’t the guy of post player where Pitino can force-feed him the ball in the post.

MORE: Expectations have changed for Nebraska this season.

With three other sophomores and a six-man freshman class devoid of a one-and-done lottery pick on the roster, if Louisville is looking for a game-changing talent, Rozier is their guy.

And to his credit, he’s put in the work to get himself into a position where he can capitalize on that opportunity, as he worked through the invitational camps this summer — Nike’s Point Guard Skills Academy in June, the LeBron James Skills Academy in July, adidas Nations in August — impressing at every step along the way. He was already poised to find his name on just about every Breakout Stars list this preseason, now he’s finding himself mentioned as a potential lottery pick in next June’s draft.

“That’s something that I’m happy I’m a part of and happy to be hearing about,” Rozier told NBCSports this summer. “I don’t really let it get to me much, but I’m happy to take on the challenge. Right now, you hear talk about it but that means nothing if I don’t do anything [this season].”

Rozier was impressive at times for the Cardinals last season, but being stuck behind a guy like Smith on the depth chart has a way of limiting minutes and shots. He averaged 7.0 points, 3.1 boards and 1.8 assists per contest while shooting 37.1% from beyond the arc. He only played 18.9 minutes per game, but in the games where he saw extended action — usually Louisville’s blowout wins — he was impressive. He averaged 14.7 points during one four-game stretch in February, and while that’s not exactly proof that Rozier is destined for the NBA, it is evidence that the talent is there.

The key for Rozier this summer was to continue his growth as a point guard, he said. He may not be listed as the starting point guard for the Cardinals, but Pitino has a habit of playing two leads guards at the same time. In other words, the one and the two are interchangeable in the Louisville attack, meaning that Rozier is going to be spending plenty of time running off of high ball-screens the way Smith did last season and Siva did before him.

RELATED: How does Wichita State build on the best two-year run in program history?

“I learned a lot about [how to run] the pick and roll. That was my goal on what to get better at,” Rozier said. “Just how to read it. I struggle a little bit coming off pick and roll, mainly setting my man up.”

And while Rozier did provide a bit of a coaching lesson on how to play the role of the ball-handler in ball-screen actions — “It’s the first two dribbles that’s the most important dribble when coming off the screen-and-roll,” he said, “one for reading the defense and one for the attack.” — it will be interesting to see how that understanding translates into actual gameplay. Last season, Louisville ran pick-and-rolls on 26.3% of their total offensive possessions, 42nd nationally according to Synergy. That was almost a third of their possessions that came in the half court.

Put simply, Louisville relies heavily on ball-screens, and if Rozier is going to be one of the guys that carries this team, he’s going to have to excel handling the ball in those situations.

Rozier also said that he’ll be looking to play more of a leadership role with this group, which is understandable given the amount of youth and inexperience on the roster, and that learning how to be a veteran voice from Smith and Siva was key.

“They’re always talking,” said Rozier, who played last season with Smith but did a post-graduate year in 2012-2013 and was never actually on the Louisville roster at the same time as Siva. “They still come back to the gym and spend time with me. They’re real good at what they do. They made sure leadership was important.”

Rozier knows that replacing the presence of Smith, both in the locker room and the box score, won’t be easy, but he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“I’m really confident in myself,” he said. “I’m ready to play. I’m ready to do it.”

Stith leads Old Dominion’s rally, upset of No. 25 Syracuse

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — B.J. Stith scored all of his 18 points in the second half, and Old Dominion overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to stun No. 25 Syracuse 68-62 on Saturday.

Xavier Green had 15 points and Marquis Godwin added 11 for the Monarchs (8-3), who trailed by 13 points late in the first half and by 11 early in the second before rallying for their sixth straight victory.

After Elijah Hughes made a 3-pointer to put the Orange (7-3) ahead 39-28, Old Dominion went on a 13-2 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Goodwin that tied it at 41 with 10:19 remaining.

Syracuse pulled aback ahead and led 50-46, but a jumper by Godwin and a 3-pointer by Ahmad Carter put the Monarchs on top again. Syracuse went ahead 53-51 with 4:15 to go, but that was the Orange’s last lead of the game.

Three foul shots by Stith and five straight points by Green extended the Monarchs to a 59-53 margin with under three minutes to go. Six points by Stith down the stretch sealed the upset.

Tyus Battle led Syracuse with 23 points on just 5-of-14 shooting. Hughes had 15. Oshae Brissett had just nine, going 3 of 11 from the field.

Syracuse shot just 33 percent from the field for the game and 8 of 22 from 3-point range.

Syracuse closed on a 12-3 run to take a 33-23 halftime lead. Battle, who scored 13 in the first 20 minutes, accounted for eight straight points during the run.

BIG PICTURE

Old Dominion: The Monarchs are flying high. Six straight wins and a huge comeback at the Carrier Dome give Old Dominion huge momentum heading into its matchup with in-state rival Richmond.

Syracuse: The Orange are still in search of an offense. Frank Howard isn’t himself and Syracuse won’t go far if its point guard doesn’t contribute.

Vick, Lawson lead No. 1 Kansas past No. 17 Villanova

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Dedric Lawson and Lagerald Vick combined for 57 points and scored all but one of the Jayhawks field goals in the second half as No. 1 Kansas remained undefeated with a 74-71 win over No. 17 Villanova in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon.

Villanova, who was coming off of their third loss of the season — and their second to a mid-major — when they were beaten by Penn on Tuesday, put up an impressive fight, but they did not have an answer for the Big Two of the Jayhawks.

Here are three things we can takeaway from that game:

1. KANSAS REALLY MISSES UDOKA AZUBUIKE

The Jayhawks were essentially a two-man band on Saturday afternoon, as Dedric Lawson and Lagerald Vick accounted for 57 of their 74 points. They were 19-for-30 from the floor. The rest of the Kansas roster was 4-for-16 combined. A Devon Dotson layup late in the second half was the only field goal made by someone not named Dedric or Lagerald in the second half.

I bring this up because Udoka Azubuike’s absence has created a situation where Lawson is forced to play a different role than what would be ideal for him and for Kansas. Self has made it clear that he wants to run his offense through the post. We know this, and without the dynamic guard play that he’s had the last two or three years, he doesn’t really have another option. Dotson is good. He’s not Frank Mason or Devonte’ Graham, at least not yet.

But with Azubuike dealing with an ankle injury, Lawson is the only player on the roster that can come close to matching Azubuike’s low-post production. Mitch Lightfoot isn’t that guy. K.J. Lawson isn’t that guy. David McCormack isn’t ready. Silvio De Sousa isn’t eligible. So it has to be Dedric, but running him as a low-post presence means that he’s not out there as a playmaking four.

So not only does Kansas lose Doke’s presence on the block and not only is Dedric forced to play out of position, but they don’t really have anyone that can do the things that Dedric can do when he’s playing the five instead of the four.

And Kansas is still undefeated, despite having played one of the toughest schedules in the country for high-major program.

2. AND THEY NEED TO FIND SOME WAY TO GET QUENTIN GRIMES GOING

Another problem with Kansas is that they are getting absolutely nothing out of Quentin Grimes. He scored a single point in 14 minutes on Saturday, which is more or less in line with everyone game he’s played since that 21 point outburst he had in the win over Michigan State. This is a problem because teams don’t really have to pay attention to him defensively. They don’t really have to pay attention to Marcus Garrett, either. Charlie Moore and K.J. Lawson haven’t been threats to score. Other than Vick and Dotson, who is as up and down as you would expect a freshman to be, Kansas doesn’t have anyone to worry about on the perimeter when Quentin Grimes is playing like he’s Rick Grimes.

(Now do you see why Bill Self has everything running through the post?)

I’m not really sure what the issue is here, either, beyond Grimes not knowing where he fits in this offense. He’s not going to be the guy asked to run ball-screens. He’s not going to be the guy asked to score in isolation, at least not when Vick is doing what he’s been doing to start the season. He’s never been a pure jump shooter.

There’s a reason he’s a projected lottery pick. The kid is talented. Self just needs to figure out how to get him going.

3. IT’S CLEAR WHO JAY WRIGHT TRUSTS AND DOES NOT TRUST

We know he doesn’t trust Jahvon Quinerly. That much has been proven true time and again. Saturday was JQ’s fourth DNP-CD of the season.

But as Villanova plays more games in tough environments like this — with Big East play bearing down, it’s going to happen quite a bit more often — we’re likely going to see his rotation condense unless some of the guys on the outside looking in step up.

On Saturday, Phil Booth, Collin Gillespie and freshman Saddiq Bey all played at least 36 minutes. Eric Paschall would have matched that if he didn’t pick up his fourth foul midway through the second half. Dhamir Cosby-Rountree played 28 minutes and fouled out.

And for the most part, it looks like that is going to be the five guys Wright rolls with. Jermaine Samuels will see minutes as a guy that gives Villanova a different look. Joe Cremo will be the guard that gives Gillespie and Booth a breather. Swider will get a few minutes here and there as Wright tries to get him to find his shot.

But Swider has now missed his last eight threes and is shooting 24.2 percent from deep on the season. Cremo has looked like an America East player. Samuels isn’t ready for this level yet.

Wright is never a stranger to a short bench, but this year it feels more like this is being forced upon him than it is a conscious decision to condense minutes.

Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union aiding high school basketball player seeking reinstatement to school

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PLANTATION, Fla. (AP) — Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union are backing attorney Benjamin Crump in an effort to help an expelled student and family friend get back into high school.

Wade and Union released a statement Thursday supporting senior Cyrus Nance, who was a basketball player in his first year at American Heritage High until he was expelled last month after a verbal altercation with a coach of another team at the school.

Crump says “every fact in this case points to discrimination.” Nance would like to return to school.

Zaire Wade, the oldest son of the longtime Miami Heat star, also plays at the school. Nance is friends with Zaire Wade and the Wade family.

Crump says the school has refused to release Nance’s transcript until his mother signs a non-disclosure agreement and pays a fee. Wade and Union say they will stand by Nance until he and his mother “get the transparent due process” that they seek.

School officials, citing privacy concerns, did not directly respond to the allegations.

CBT Podcast: ESPN’s Myron Medcalf on Jahvon Quinerly, Quade Green, Kentucky

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Rob Dauster was joined by Myron Medcalf from ESPN.com on Friday morning to talk through all of the week’s biggest college basketball stories, from Jahvon Quinerly and the fake Instagram hack to Quade Green’s transfer to whether or not Kentucky can still recruit basketball players that matter.

No. 16 Wisconsin overwhelms Savannah State 101-60

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Brad Davison scored a season-high 24 points and No. 16 Wisconsin had a school-record 69 first-half points to overwhelm Savannah State 101-60 on Thursday night.

Davison was 6 of 9 from 3-point range. Preseason All-American Ethan Happ had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and freshman Tai Strickland added a career-high 14 points for Wisconsin (9-2).

The Badgers shot 71 percent in the first half to take a 69-32 lead in their first 100-point game since 2013. Savannah State (3-9) is the only team in Division I allowing 100 points a game.

Jaquan Dotson had 20 points to lead the Tigers, a team that likes to shoot 3s. Second in the NCAAs in hitting 13 3s a game, Savannah State managed to shoot 11 of 39 (28 percent) from the arc at the Kohl Center.

Wisconsin put on a first-half clinic, hitting 24 of 34 from the field, including 69 percent (11 of 16) from 3-point range.

Strickland’s night exemplified the Badgers’ early fortune after two of his three 3s banked off the backboard.

It was just the kind of breather that Wisconsin needed after 74-69 loss in overtime last week to in-state rival Marquette.

This game was decided in a hurry, especially with the way that Savannah State liked to run and put up deep 3s

At one point, Davison was trapped in the corner in the frontcourt by two defenders before jumping and slinging a pass to Kobe King at the opposite wing. King hit a bucket and drew a foul for a 39-20 lead with 9:25 left in the first.

Later, Wisconsin’s Charles Thomas blocked Romani Hansen’s layup attempt from behind. At the other end, D’Mitrik Trice punctured the undersized Tigers’ zone with a diagonal pass to a cutting Davison for an easy layup and 21-point lead with 8:13 left in the first.

TIP INS

Savannah State: In the middle of a 12-game trip, coach Horace Broadnax dressed just eight players. Their tallest player is 6-foot-8 Romani Hansen, but 6-6 guard Adam Saeed faced the 6-10 Happ for the opening tip. Allowing foes to shoot 50 percent on the season, the Tigers were routed, as expected. They were also outrebounded 45-20.

Wisconsin: F Khalil Iverson sat out with a lower left foot injury. Coach Greg Gard didn’t really need one of his best defenders anyway. … The 11 3s in the opening 20 minutes were a school record for a first half. …. Wisconsin finished the night shooting 47 percent.

UP NEXT

Savannah State: At Tennessee Tech on Dec. 20.

Wisconsin: Hosts Grambling on Dec. 22.