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Looking Forward: Defense will help Arizona sort out loaded rotation

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind let’s take a look at Arizona, an elite program that reloads with designs on erasing the bad memories of last year’s first round NCAA tournament exit. 

After going on a two-year run in which they went 67-9, won two Pac-12 regular season titles and made two Elite Eight appearances, Arizona took a step back in 2015-16. Sean Miller’s Wildcats saw their grip on the Pac-12 loosen, with Oregon taking advantage, and their NCAA tournament stay was a short one thanks to a tough Wichita State team. Many programs would sign up for a season that included 25 wins despite injuries to freshmen Ray Smith (torn ACL) and Allonzo Trier (broken hand).

But Arizona isn’t your “run of the mill” program, which is a testament not only to what the retired Lute Olson accomplished during his time in Tucson but to what Sean Miller’s managed to do as well. Since his arrival Miller’s pumped new life into the program, with Arizona racking up highly regarded recruiting classes and the wins to match.

All that’s missing from his time at Arizona is a trip to the Final Four, an accomplishment Arizona hasn’t been able to boast since 2001. And after last year’s disappointing finish, Arizona’s work on the recruiting trail in the spring has them in a position where they can get that done. There’s talent, depth and versatility on the roster heading into the 2016-17 season, with some key returnees being joined by one of the nation’s best recruiting classes.

And with that will come an important question for the Wildcats: how will they sort everything out from a rotation standpoint?

Competition within the ranks is hardly a bad thing; “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The same can be said for versatility, which will be another positive trait for Arizona in 2016-17. At first glance the roster has just two players seemingly locked into one specific position: Parker Jackson-Cartwright at point guard and Dusan Ristic at center. Outside of that, Arizona boasts a host of players capable of filling multiple spots based upon the desires of their head coach and the flow of the game.

The front court includes a mobile 7-footer in sophomore Chance Comanche, who managed to earn more consistent appearances down the stretch thanks to his activity on the defensive end of the floor. Newcomers in Lauri Markkanen and Keanu Pinder who can fill multiple roles in the front court, with Markannen’s ability to step out and hit perimeter shots being especially key, and the same can be said of the talented Smith provided there are no lingering effects from his second ACL tear in as many years.

With the injury and the time away from live action Smith will likely have some rust to shake off, but this is something Arizona can work through given their depth. There’s role versatility and this sets up to be a more mobile group defensively as well, which can only help the Wildcats moving forward.

The bigger area for Arizona from an options standpoint is on the perimeter, as they’re loaded with established returnees and high-caliber newcomers. And with the players available, how everything shakes out with regards to roles and minutes that come with them will be very interesting to watch. Trier’s back after a successful freshman season in which he averaged 14.6 points per game and shot 46.6 percent from the field, and with his ability to attack defenses off the dribble he’ll figure prominently in the Arizona rotation again in 2016-17.

Also returning are Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who shared the point guard duties with Allen getting the starting nod thanks in large part to his ability on the defensive end of the floor. Losing Gabe York, who was second on the team in scoring and Arizona’s best three-point shooter a season ago, can’t be overlooked. But with the additions to the program, Arizona can more than account for the production lost there.

Last year Trier was the Wildcat best capable of attacking defenses off the bounce, but even with the relative “lack” of such options Arizona still managed to average 80 points per game and shoot 48 percent from the field. Things will be a bit different in 2016-17, thanks to factors such as the loss of York and Ryan Anderson and the fact that they’ll have more players capable of breaking down opponents off the dribble. Freshmen Kobi Simmons, Rawle Alkins and Terrance Ferguson can all create shots via dribble penetration, with Ferguson also being one of the top shooters in the class of 2016.

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 30: Terrance Ferguson #6 of the East  team goes up for a dunk against the West team during the 2016 McDonalds's All American Game on March 30, 2016 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Terrance Ferguson (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

But could this turn out to be a case of having too much of a good thing? While considered a point guard, Simmons proved to be better at getting himself looks than doing so for others, and Alkins was also considered to be a “ball dominant” guard at the high school level. How will that change at the college level, and how will the pieces fit together within Arizona’s rotation?

These are important questions to address, and how Arizona can do that is on the defensive end of the floor.

After two straight seasons of producing defenses that ranked in the top three in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers (first in 2014, third in 2015), Arizona was ranked 41st in that category last season. After two consecutive seasons of limiting teams to less than 40 percent shooting from the field, Arizona allowed teams to shoot 41.3 percent in 2015-16. Also of concern was the turnover department, with teams committing an average of just 11.4 per game against the Wildcats last season.

By comparison, those two Elite Eight teams managed to force an average of 13.8 turnovers per game in 2013-14 and 12.4 per contest in 2014-15. The pack line defense isn’t one that people would necessarily categorize as a “pressure” system, but one of the strengths for Arizona during those two Elite Eight runs was having athletic options on the wings who can make life difficult for passers and the players looking to receive those passes. That wasn’t the case last season, but it may not be a problem in 2016-17 thanks to the roster additions.

Ferguson’s athleticism is noted above, and he’s also a long-armed player who more than holds his own defensively. Alkins also has the physical tools needed to cause trouble on the wing, which will give Arizona a good shot at playing defense at the level we grew accustomed to seeing them reach.

Physical tools aside, there’s always the “carrot” of playing time to dangle in front of the players. When discussing the adjustment process for freshmen many rush to the offensive end, and that’s understandable to a certain extent. But the biggest adjustment comes on the other end of the floor, and being able to prove that you can defend your position and carry out the team’s defensive game plan.

Arizona will certainly have offensive talent across the board next season. But the reason why they can rebound from last season and possibly reach the Final Four is the fact that some of that talent will make a difference defensively as well.

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

We’re excited to bring viewers fresh programming every day with unique, topical conversations from prominent individuals in all corners of sports. This will be a daily lunch date to share sports and stories we miss during these unique times.
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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.

Michigan State AD defends Tom Izzo after witness report

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman defended basketball coach Tom Izzo on Thursday after Izzo was accused in

of contacting a witness who was part of a 2017 criminal sexual conduct investigation involving one of his players.

According to a police report obtained by ESPN, Michigan State student Brayden Smith was with basketball player Brock Washington on the night a female student said Washington forcibly groped her. When police interviewed Smith, he said he had already been contacted by Izzo and assistant coaches Dwayne Stephens and Mike Garland. They “asked (Smith) if he was OK and if there was anything that he had seen during the evening,” according to the report.

Beekman responded in a lengthy statement Thursday.

“Tom Izzo has been a beacon of integrity in his profession for nearly four decades, including a quarter century as head coach. Michigan State’s Office of Institutional Equity has gone on record to say that no policies were violated in regards to any actions taken by the men’s basketball staff during a Title IX investigation into a student,” Beekman said. “There’s nothing to support any claims that any member of the men’s basketball staff conducted their own investigation, or interfered with any ongoing investigation. Any insinuation to the contrary is nothing more than an attempt to smear a coach, a program, and an entire university.”

Smith, the son of former Michigan State player Steve Smith, has not played basketball for the Spartans. According to a Title IX report obtained by ESPN, Brayden Smith told investigators he considers the coaches his “godfathers” who check in on him occasionally.

According to ESPN, police said in their report that Brayden Smith’s perception of his conversation with the coaches about the night in question “was not to get information out of him, but rather to ensure that he was OK and remind him to be responsible.”

The school’s Title IX investigation determined that Washington was not responsible for having violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy, according to ESPN. The network

that in early 2018, Washington pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault under a provision allowing offenders to plead guilty without a court entering a judgment of conviction.

Earlier this week, ESPN reported that campus police told prosecutors they had probable cause that Brock Washington raped a woman Jan. 19 while she was too intoxicated to consent County prosecutors

because they didn’t feel they could prove their case to a jury.

Washington played a total of 19 minutes this season before he was suspended in late January.

NC State’s NCAA case recommended for independent process

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State’s NCAA case involving recruiting violations tied to former Wolfpack one-and-done star Dennis Smith Jr. has been recommended to go through an independent investigation process created for complex cases.

In a statement Friday, athletics spokesman Fred Demarest said the school must respond by April 14 to the recommendation. Demarest said officials are “reviewing and evaluating our options.”

The NCAA created the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP) last year, a product of proposals from the commission led by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2018 to reform college basketball amid a federal corruption investigation into the sport. The process includes independent investigators and decision-makers with no direct ties to NCAA member schools, and rulings cannot be appealed.

The NCAA announced last month that Memphis’ case involving star freshman basketball player James Wiseman would go that route, becoming the first to enter the process.

IARP spokeswoman Whitney Ertel declined to comment on the N.C. State case, but said involved parties have the chance to respond to any recommendation before a determination is made.

“A case can either be accepted into the independent process or it can be denied,” Ertel said. “If any case is going to be accepted, then we will make an announcement.”

N.C. State was charged last summer with four violations, including former head coach Mark Gottfried being charged individually under the provision of head-coach responsibility for violations within his program.

Specifically, the NCAA has alleged ex-assistant Orlando Early provided Smith and his associates approximately $46,700 in impermissible benefits – including $40,000 that a government witness testified he delivered to Early intended for Smith’s family in 2015.

N.C. State has argued the NCAA had not proven money was actually provided to Smith or his family, noting Smith – picked ninth in the 2017 NBA draft after one year in Raleigh – denied receiving money in a school interview in 2019.

Attorneys for Gottfried, now coach at Cal State Northridge, have questioned the fairness of the process and argued Gottfried fulfilled obligations to monitor the program.

The NCAA enforcement staff’s response in February held firm that violations had occurred.

2020 NBA Draft Early Entry Tracker

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Here is CBT’s full 2020 NBA Draft early entry tracker. You’ll find a full breakdown of what players are deciding. We’ll track signing with agents, testing the waters and returning to school here. 

Underclassmen have until Sunday, April 26th at 11:59 p.m. EST to declare for the 2020 NBA Draft.

A deadline of Monday, June 15th at 5 p.m. EST is set for underclassmen to withdraw and retain college eligibility.

Of course, these dates are subject to change given the fluidity of the COVID-19 situation.

Here is the full list of the underclassmen who have declared for the 2020 NBA Draft. You can also find a list of the biggest names we’re waiting on.

NBA DRAFT EARLY ENTRY

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

NBA DRAFT TESTING THE WATERS

  • PAUL ATKINSON, Yale
  • SADDIQ BEY, Villanova
  • TYLER BEY, Colorado
  • JERMAINE BISHOP, Norfolk State
  • JOMARU BROWN, Eastern Kentucky
  • JORDAN BRUNER, Yale
  • JORDAN BURNS, Colgate
  • MARCUS CARR, Minnesota
  • TAMENANG CHOH, Brown
  • DAVID COLLINS, South Florida
  • JALEN CRUTCHER, Dayton
  • RYAN DALY, St. Joseph’s
  • DEVON DANIELS, N.C. State
  • KENDRIC DAVIS, SMU
  • DEXTER DENNIS, Wichita State
  • MASON FAULKNER, Western Carolina
  • L.J. FIGUEROA, St. John’s
  • D.J. FUNDERBURK, N.C. State
  • ALONZO GAFFNEY, Ohio State
  • JIMMA GATWECH, Huntington Prep (WV)
  • JORDAN GOODWIN, Saint Louis
  • JAYVON GRAVES, Buffalo
  • RAYSHAUN HAMMONDS, Georgia
  • ELIJAH HUGHES, Syracuse
  • FERON HUNT, SMU
  • HERB JONES, Alabama
  • MASON JONES, Arkansas
  • KAMERON LANGLEY, North Carolina A&T
  • SABEN LEE, Vanderbilt
  • KIRA LEWIS, Alabama
  • ISAIAH LIVERS, Michigan
  • SANDRO MAMUKELASHVILI, Seton Hall
  • NICO MANNION, Arizona
  • NAJI MARSHALL, Xavier
  • KENYON MARTIN JR., IMG Academy (FL)
  • REMY MARTIN, Arizona State
  • MAC MCCLUNG, Georgetown
  • ISAIAH MILLER, UNCG
  • ELIJAH OLANIYI, Stony Brook
  • JOHN PETTY JR., Alabama
  • NATE PIERRE-LOUIS, Temple
  • XAVIER PINSON, Missouri
  • JEREMIAH ROBINSON-EARL, Villanova
  • MARCUS SANTOS-SILVA, VCU
  • JAY SCRUBB, John A. Logan College (Louisville commit)
  • MITCHELL SMITH, Missouri
  • STEF SMITH, Vermont
  • PARKER STEWART, UT Martin
  • MACIO TEAGUE, Baylor
  • XAVIER TILLMAN, Michigan State
  • JEREMIAH TILMON, Missouri
  • JORDAN TUCKER, Butler
  • KALEB WESSON, Ohio State
  • KEITH WILLIAMS, Cincinnati
  • MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado

NOTABLES RETURNING TO SCHOOL

  • DEREK CULVER, West Virginia
  • OSCAR TSHIEBWE, West Virginia

NOTABLES YET TO ANNOUNCE

PRECIOUS ACHIUWA, Memphis
DERRICK ALSTON, Boise State
COLE ANTHONY, North Carolina
BRYAN ANTOINE, Villanova
JOEL AYAYI, Gonzaga
JARED BUTLER, Baylor
VERNON CAREY, Duke
AYO DOSUNMU, Illinois
DEVON DOTSON, Kansas
MALACHI FLYNN, San Diego State
LUKA GARZA, Iowa
JOSH GREEN, Arizona
ASHTON HAGANS, Kentucky
AARON HENRY, Michigan State
MATTHEW HURT, Duke
TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS, Indiana
ISAIAH JOE, Arkansas
DAVID JOHNSON, Louisville
A.J. LAWSON, South Carolina
SCOTTIE LEWIS, Florida
TYRESE MAXEY, Kentucky
JADEN MCDANIELS, Washington
WENDELL MOORE, Duke
JORDAN NWORA, Louisville
FILIP PETRUSEV, Gonzaga
YVES PONS, Tennessee
NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State
IMMANUEL QUICKLEY, Kentucky
JAHMI’US RAMSEY, Texas Tech
NICK RICHARDS, Kentucky
JALEN SMITH, Maryland
CASSIUS STANLEY, Duke
TYRELL TERRY, Stanford
TRENDON WATFORD, LSU
ROMEO WEEMS, DePaul
KAHLIL WHITNEY, Kentucky
ROBERT WOODWARD, Mississippi State

Preseason Top 25 | Coaching Carousel | NBA Draft Early Entry (link)

WHEN IS THE 2020 NBA DRAFT?

The 2020 NBA Draft is currently scheduled to take place on June 25th, 2020, but that date is up in the air due to the spread of COVID-19. At the very least, the league is preparing as if the pre-draft process is going to be drastically different than it has been in past seasons.

WHEN IS THE DEADLINE FOR AN EARLY ENTRY TO DECLARE FOR THE 2020 NBA DRAFT?

Underclassmen have under April 26th to declare for the draft. Those that don’t sign with an agent have until June 15th to pull their name out of the draft and return to school.

WHERE CAN I FIND A 2020 MOCK DRAFT?

Right here, thanks for asking.

Dr. Anthony Fauci to Coach K: ‘We’re not even at halftime’ in fight against COVID-19

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Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared on the radio show of Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski — Basketball and Beyond with Coach K — on Thursday to discuss our nation’s battle with coronavirus and COVID-19. Fauci is an immunologist that has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984.

In an interview with Coach K that was overrun with basketball analogies, Fauci stressed the same talking points that he has stressed in every appearance that he has made over the course of the last month: The coronavirus pandemic is incredibly serious, we have not yet come close to winning the fight against it and the only way to save lives, slow this thing down and get back to normal is social distancing.

In simple terms, Fauci, again, told Krzyzewski we need to stay at home if they want COVID-19 to be a thing of the past.

“The [battle with coronavirus] is going to go on for several weeks, Coach K,” Fauci said. “The issue is that we have a large country and we have different metropolitan areas.”

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

“If you want to do the basketball analogy, that right now we have a team that’s a very powerful team, and that’s the virus, and what we need to do is that we’ve got to play a full-court press. We can’t let them get the ball on the ground to dribble. We’ve just got to be all over them,” he added. “I mean, that’s what we’ve really got to do, because that’s the only tool we have right now.”

Fauci also told Krzyzewski that we are “not even at halftime,” and that the only way to truly combat the coronavirus is to do everything we can as a nation to avoid contact with other human beings.

“We are not yet at the point where we’re turning the corner and we’re coming around the bend and coming down as a country,” Fauci said later, a reference to flattening the curve. “There are some cities that have not yet even begun to spike and it’s our absolute responsibility to make sure that in those cities that people understand what they need to do to prevent that explosive spike that New York City has seen, that New Orleans has seen, that parts of New Jersey have seen, Detroit and on and on.”

These talking points are not new.

It’s what we’ve been hearing for months on end. It’s the reason sports in our country have been postponed for the foreseeable future, to avoid a situation like the one stemming from a Champions League soccer match in Italy.

Fauci has been steadfast in his efforts to get this message out. In addition to Coach K’s radio show, he appeared on an Instagram live with Stephen Curry and did an interview with Pardon My Take. It’s clear what he is trying to do, reaching the largest cross section of sports fans that he can. Put another way, I’d imagine the venn diagram of people that listen to Coach K’s radio show and Pardon My Take is basically two circles.

Hopefully people are listening.