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.”

Matt Haarms decides to leave Purdue, enter transfer portal

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue center Matt Haarms has entered the transfer portal and intends to play his final college season at another school, coach Matt Painter announced Monday.

The slim, 7-foot-3 Haarms was one of the Big Ten’s top defenders and played a key role during the Boilermakers’ 2019 NCAA Tournament run, when he replaced injured center Isaac Haas in the starting lineup.

But Haarms lost the starting job following a hip injury in December and wound up averaging 8.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2 blocks per game while shooting 52.4% from the field.

He finished fourth on Purdue’s career list for blocks with 210.

Louisville’s Nwora enters NBA draft after All-America season

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville forward Jordan Nwora has announced on social media that he will enter the NBA draft.

Nwora was selected to The Associated Press All-America third team as a junior. His decision to turn pro was expected after limited participation in last year’s NBA combine because of a knee injury. He returned to the Cardinals and was named Atlantic Coast Conference preseason player of the year before going on to average 18 points and 7.7 rebounds per game while shooting 44% from the field. The 6-foot-7 Nwora was named to the AP’s All-ACC first team.

The Buffalo, New York, native said on his verified Twitter account that the abrupt end to the season was “heartbreaking and awful” because he believed No. 14 Louisville (24-7) was ready to win the NCAA championship. But he noted that community health and safety should be the priority because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nwora called Cardinal teammates and coaches his family in his post and added, “I will proudly represent Louisville wherever I go.”

Florida guard Scottie Lewis returning for sophomore season

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida guard Scottie Lewis, one of the Southeastern Conference’s top defenders, is returning for his sophomore season.

Lewis made the announcement Monday via social media by saying “we have some unfinished business.”

“My dream of playing in the NBA is still a top priority, but my heart is in Gainesville!” he added. “I am excited for the journey that lies ahead. My story hasn’t even started, and trust me the best is yet to come!”

A McDonald’s All-American in high school, the 6-foot-5 Lewis had been considered a one-and-done prospect when he arrived in Gainesville last summer. But his defensive prowess overshadowed his offensive skills for much of his first collegiate season.

The New Jersey native averaged 8.5 points and 3.6 rebounds to go along with a team-leading 36 blocks. He was second on the team with 36 steals.

He was at his best in SEC play, averaging 9.2 points and shooting 43.6% from 3-point range. He scored a career-high 19 points in the team’s regular-season finale against Kentucky. The postseason was canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Gators (19-12, 11-7 SEC) now await word on a pair of sophomores: point guard Andrew Nembhard and versatile forward Keyontae Johnson.

Nembhard entered the NBA draft last year before withdrawing his name and returning for a second season. Johnson led Florida in scoring this season, averaging 14 points, and was second on the team with 7.1 rebounds. He also led the team with 38 steals.

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Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey declares for the NBA draft

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Kentucky freshman Tyrese Maxey announced on Monday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft and forgoing his final three seasons in college.

Maxey is projected as a lottery pick after averaging 14 points, 4.3 boards and 3.2 assists for the Wildcats this past season. He burst onto the college basketball scene on the first night of the season when he went for 26 points in a win over No. 1 Michigan State during the Champions Classic, and while he was not quite capable of keeping up that pace throughout the season, he did enough to prove himself as a quality pro prospect.

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Taking a risk on Tyrese Maxey high in the 2020 NBA Draft means betting on the fact that his 29 percent three-point shooting as a freshman had more to do with adjusting to the college level than it does his actual shooting ability. Coming through high school, Maxey had the reputation for being a big-time scorer because of his ability to make deep jumpers off the bounce and because of the way that he can finish around the rim with a variety of floaters and layups.

And while he would show flashes of being the dominant scorer Kentucky needed him to be, the Wildcats late-season surge was a direct result of Immanuel Quickley’s improvement, not Maxey finding consistency. We spent the entire season saying “just wait until Maxey finds his stroke” and he never really did. He needs to be able to make that shot because the rest of his game is somewhat limited. He’s not a natural creator, he’s wired to score more than anything else, and he certainly isn’t an elite athlete by NBA combo-guard standards, although he is a pretty good on-ball defender. He’s also a worker, and by all accounts a great kid and competitor. I think there’s a real chance his ceiling is as a second-unit scorer, but if it all comes together I can see him putting together a career on par with Lou Williams.

Mike Tirico to host NBC Sports’ new daily sports talk show ‘Lunch Talk Live’

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A new daily sports talk shot called Lunch Talk Live will debut on NBCSN at noon ET on Monday, April 6th.

The show will feature Mike Tirico joined like by special guests every single day, including a lineup of NBC Sports’ on-air personalities, current and former athletes and prominent people in sports media.

The show will focus on how the sports world is navigating the coronavirus pandemic, providing a platform for intelligent discussion on the state of sports and how we, as a society, are adapting to living in this challenging time. the goal is to detail personal stories of how different people from across the sports industry are functioning in the day-to-day.

“In these challenging times, we are all missing sports and the people who make sports memories,” said Tirico. “Hopefully, we can bring a midday connection with some of them to help fill the void.”

“We’re excited to bring viewers fresh programming every day with unique, topical conversations from prominent individuals in all corners of sports,” said Sam Flood, the Executive Producer & President of Production for NBC Sports. “This will be a daily lunch date to share sports and stories we miss during these unique times.”

The show will be an hour long. It will air on weekdays at Noon ET on NBCSN and will be streaming on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Additionally, content will also be provided on the NBC Sports’ YouTube channel as well as other social media platforms.

All episodes of the show will be hosted remotely.

Here is the schedule for the week:

Monday 4/6

12:00p- Justin Leonard // Peter King
12:15p- Cris Collinsworth & Dale Earnhardt Jr
12:30p- Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski
12:40p- Seahawks QB Russell Wilson
12:50p- Jeff Burton & Steve Letarte

Tuesday 4/7

12:15p- Rebecca Lowe & Kathryn Tappen
12:30p- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman
12:40p- NASCAR Driver Denny Hamlin

Wednesday 4/8

12:15p- Al Michaels & Doc Emrick
12:30p- PGA Golfer Justin Thomas
12:50p- Kyle Petty & Dale Jarrett

Thursday 4/9

12:50p- Keith Jones & Eddie Olczyk

Friday 4/10

12:15p- Michele Tafoya & tbd
12:40p- Dan Hicks & Paul Azinger
12:50p- Robbie Mustoe & Robbie Earle