John Weast/Getty Images

The New Napiers: Who will be able to replicate Shabazz Napier’s 2014 title run?

Leave a comment

Shabazz Napier became an immortal figure in college basketball.

The former UConn point guard led the Huskies to a 2014 national title as a No. 7 seed.

And now that we know Kevin Ollie isn’t a very good coach, Napier’s heroics look even more impressive over time.

The All-American was a known player with an established track record entering the 2014 tournament.

His six-game stretch through March turned him a superstar who will likely be forever recognized.

He’s the standard-bearer for a lead guard who took over and won a tournament.

Even LeBron wanted to play with Napier after that run.

In our quest to find a new Napier, we only considered teams below No. 2 seeds — since Napier’s run wasn’t from a major title favorite. That means some talented guards like Joel Berry, Jalen Brunson, Devonte’ Graham and Carsen Edwards were left off this list. These New Napiers also need to be high-scoring, high-usage guards who consistently have the ball in their hands. Napier had four games of at least 22 points during his ridiculous six-game stretch. That means some great guards on balanced rosters were also left off this list.

The 2018 NCAA Tournament has plenty of potential Shabazz Napiers lurking in the shadows. Can any of them match the incredible run of 2014? Here are some schools with potentially new Napiers to keep an eye on.

Shabazz Napier (AP Photo)

KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: Before suffering a turf toe injury late in the regular seasons, Evans was looking like a potential first-team All-American for the Red Raiders. Although the injury slowed him down a little bit, Evans had a knack for making big plays and big shots during the regular season. He was the clutch player Texas Tech needed on many nights. A second-team NBCSports.com All-American, the senior had two big scoring outings in his last three games. That could be a sign that Evans is healthier and ready to go for the Big Dance.

JEVON CARTER, West Virginia: The engine that makes West Virginia go, Carter is the top defensive player on this list while also being a credible threat on offense. The NABC national Defensive Player of the Year last year, Carter has improved his offensive consistency during his senior season. Putting up 17.0 points, 6.6 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 steals per game, Carter was a third-team NBCSports.com All-American this season.

ROB GRAY, Houston: If Shea Serrano hops on the bandwagon, you’re probably doing something right. The Houston senior actually saw his scoring numbers dip this season but it was mostly because Gray became a more well-rounded perimeter threat. Still capable of dropping 30-point games on elite teams — Gray had 33 in an AAC semifinal win over Wichita State last week — Gray is a hard-nosed competitor on both ends of the floor. Don’t be fooled by the man bun. Gray will defend the length of the floor and knock down cold-blooded perimeter jumpers with a hand in his face.

COLLIN SEXTON, Alabama: We already saw Sexton put together a major run during the SEC Tournament. So we already know that he’s capable of carrying a team to victory over quality competition. Although the Crimson Tide fell short in the semifinals, Sexton’s scoring outbursts and ability to create for teammates was a huge storyline in St. Louis. Sexton might have single-handedly put Alabama into the tournament with two quality wins when they were squarely on the bubble to begin the week. Does Sexton have another ridiculous run in him these next few weeks? Enjoy watching this hyperactive freshman while you can before he becomes a lottery pick in June.

MARCUS FOSTER, Creighton: There aren’t many badder dudes on this list to begin with. And then you also factor that Foster and Creighton are facing Foster’s former school (and head coach that dismissed him) in the first round? Foster against Kansas State and Bruce Weber is a huge revenge game for the senior as he’ll get a chance at redemption after a promising start to his career in Manhattan. This season, Foster is putting up 20.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game during another great campaign. It will be fascinating to see if Foster and Creighton can win the first game against the Wildcats and use it as a springboard into the second round against No. 1 seed Virginia.

JAYLEN ADAMS (and Matt Mobley), St. Bonaventure: The First Four features a lot of dangerous guards who can take over and win a game. Since these teams are also in the First Four, they are flawed groups who likely need big performances from these guards to advance. Adams and Mobley, a pair of seniors, have the goods to deliver some wins. Both averaged over 37 minutes per game this season and both fill it up from all over the floor. The duo combines to average 38.3 points per game. Adams is the more likely to explode for a 40-point game thanks to his ridiculous 45 percent three-point shooting.

JAYLEN BARFORD (and Daryl Macon), Arkansas: Similar to St. Bonaventure, but locked in at a No. 7 seed, the Razorbacks are going to be relying a lot on this senior duo to make plays. Barford and Macon don’t need to play as many minutes or take as many shots as the St. Bonaventure duo, but they combine to put up 34.9 points per game while both of them shoot over 42 percent from three-point range. Since this duo also has an emerging big man in Daniel Gafford and another veteran guard in Anton Beard, they might not have to do as much by themselves as some others on this list.

KHADEEN CARRINGTON, Seton Hall: The Seton Hall senior is getting hot at just the right time. Carrington is already having a very good senior season. But over his last five games, he’s averaging 22.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game for the Pirates. That stretch included games against four NCAA tournament teams. Carrington is also an 83 percent free-throw shooter who would be among the Tournament’s more reliable closers. On a veteran team, Carrington could be a dangerous catalyst.

TRA HOLDER (and Shannon Evans), Arizona State: The first few weeks of the season were dominated by Arizona State and this senior backcourt duo. While the Sun Devils cooled off to the point of playing in the First Four and barely making the field — these two guards still have the potential to be lethal. Evans and Holder both fire up insane amounts of three-pointers, and if one, or both, get hot then it spells trouble for an opponent. The duo has also been through some cold stretches over the final months of the season, so they could just as easily help shoot Arizona State right out of the tournament.

AARON HOLIDAY, UCLA: The younger brother of Justin and Jrue Holiday feels like the most underrated All-American in the country — which is very odd considering he plays at UCLA and has NBA bloodlines. After being the nation’s best sixth man last year, Holiday has taken control from Lonzo Ball and put together a great year, averaging 20.3 points, 5.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game while shooting 43 percent from three. Holiday faces the St. Bonaventure duo of Adams and Mobley in a First Four game that you need to make a priority in your viewing schedule.

TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma: Probably the most obvious name on this list, Young took the basketball world by storm with his deep shooting range and monster numbers to open the year. Oklahoma was a top-ten team and looked like a potential top seed. Then teams started throwing crazy traps and schemes at Young and Oklahoma during Big 12 play.

The Sooners (and in some games, Young) responded poorly and faltered enough to barely get into this tournament as a No. 10 seed. But Young still led the nation in points and assists (as a freshman!) and he has the type of range nobody can match in this event. If he gets supernova-level hot, then who knows?

Middle Tennessee loses four returnees during the week

AP Photo
Leave a comment

Middle Tennessee has been one of the best mid-major programs in the country over the last few years but now the Blue Raiders will be facing a major rebuild.

With former head coach Kermit Davis taking the Ole Miss job and new head coach Nick McDevitt coming over from UNC Asheville, the program experienced some major roster turnover this week as four returnees left the program.

Earlier in the week, junior guard David Simmons opted to transfer out of Middle Tennessee after he averaged 17.9 minutes per game for the Conference USA regular-season champions last season.

On Friday, the losses continued, as three more players left the team. Rising junior point guard Tyrik Dixon announced his intention to transfer while the program dismissed guard Antwain Johnson and forward Davion Thomas. Dixon was a valuable floor leader for Middle Tennessee the past two seasons while Johnson, a rising senior guard, would have been the team’s returning leading scorer after putting up 10.3 points per game last week.

Since so much of the successful core of the past three seasons is now gone from Middle Tennessee, it will be on McDevitt to bring in new talent to sustain the recent great stretch of play. The Blue Raiders made two Round of 32 appearances in a row before missing the NCAA tournament last season after winning C-USA’s regular season crown.

Now, with Western Kentucky making a power play by bringing in five-star big man Charles Bassey, and the power has shifted very quickly in one of the most competitive mid-major conferences in the country.

Report: One-and-Done rule could be eliminated for 2021 NBA Draft

Getty Images
1 Comment

The NBA is reportedly exploring the possibility of ending the infamous one-and-done rule that forces many potential professional basketball players to head to college for at least one season.

According to a report from ESPN’s Zach Lowe, citing a league memo sent to NBA teams late this week, the league office is indicating that “eligibility rules” for the NBA draft could change as soon as 2021 or 2022 — but not earlier. The league is currently trying to figure out how the FBI’s investigation into college basketball will play out while also trying to navigate the player development changes that would be needed for high school players to once again potentially enter the NBA. Recently, the NBA has started to allow its teams and front-office personnel to attend elite summer high school events as the Pangos All-American Camp and the NBPA Top 100 Camp both had an NBA presence to watch elite Class of 2019, 2020 and 2021 prospects.

Lowe’s report mentions that the one-and-done rule is not mentioned directly by name, but the NBA is trying to warn its teams before the 2018 NBA Draft. These future changes could be on the horizon and teams need to understand what they are doing with future draft picks in potential trades.

The scenario of a 2021 NBA Draft in which high school players might be eligible is a fascinating subplot for college basketball, and the sport at-large, over these next few years.

As Lowe pointed out in his report, whenever the rule is eventually opened up, it will create one large mega draft in which two elite classes of high school players would be draft-eligible in the same year. With potentially double the lottery-level and first-round talent of a typical NBA draft, it would force a lot of elite college recruits to exam the possibility of reclassifying up in order to get ahead of that mega draft and be in a pool with fewer elite prospects.

It also gives the high school players themselves a unique decision with regard to their potential college futures. If an elite high school prospect is one year away from entering the NBA draft out of school, would some go to college or would they try to go for a postgrad year and follow in the footsteps of players like Thon Maker and Anfernee Simons?

The expanding presence of the NBA’s G-League is also a factor in all of this as salaries for the league are increasing and becoming more respectable — giving high school players a viable professional option in the United States instead of college for one year before moving on to the draft.

There are still way too many moving parts to truly speculate how this will all go down. But at least we know that the NBA appears to be viewing 2021 or 2022 as the potential change to the one-and-done rule. We’ll have to see how elite high school prospects start potentially adjusting to reclassify while colleges also might have to adopt some new and unique recruiting strategies if they rely on one-and-done players to fill out their roster.

Five-star guard Ashton Hagans enrolling at Kentucky after graduating year early

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kentucky received additional reinforcements for the 2018-19 season on Friday as five-star guard Ashton Hagans graduated high school a year early with the intent to head to Lexington for next season.

The 6-foot-4 Hagans is considered by many recruiting analysts to be a top-ten national prospect in the Class of 2019 as he gives the Wildcats three five-star recruits at lead guard for next season. The Georgia state Player of the Year as a junior this past season, Hagans joins a crowded Kentucky backcourt that includes sophomore Quade Green and fellow incoming freshman and McDonald’s All-American Immanuel Quickley.

While the juggling of minutes is going to be a major storyline for head coach John Calipari this season, the addition of Hagans gives Kentucky even more lineup flexibility than they had before. Because Hagans has good size and defensive ability, he could be used to play alongside the smaller Green, giving the Wildcats a two-guard look that would have more defensive intensity. Playing Quickley and Hagans together would give Kentucky a bigger two-guard lineup that would have a chance to be pretty strong defensively.

And, of course, Calipari could opt to go with some three-guard lineups with other off-guards like Keldon Johnson or Tyler Herro to give Kentucky a tough perimeter attack.

Handling minutes and egos will be something to watch for in Lexington this season, but Calipari has handled this sort of situation with a Final Four appearance before. It’s hard to say if the Wildcats will try to play another platoon type of system like we saw in 2014-15, but if they end up getting graduate transfer forward Reid Travis, they might have the personnel to give it a shot.

Villanova lands late commitment from four-star prospect

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Villanova made a late addition to their 2018 recruiting class on Friday afternoon as they landed a commitment from four-star prospect Saddiq Bey.

Bey was originally committed to N.C. State, but he asked out of his Letter of Intent in mid-May as the Wolfpack ended up over the scholarship limit. The versatile, 6-foot-7 forward is a good fit for the way that Villanova likes to play, as he can guard different positions, plays with the toughness you expect out of a kid from Washington D.C. and is a capable scorer.

Bey is also a product of Sidwell Friends, the same high school that produced former Villanova star Josh Hart.

He will joined a recruiting class that also includes five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, four star prospects Cole Swider and Brandon Slater and Albany grad transfer Joe Cremo.

The news was first reported by 247 Sports.

Marvin Bagley III, a ‘Nike kid’, to sign endorsement deal with Puma

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Leave a comment

In a somewhat surprising turn of events, Marvin Bagley III will reportedly sign an endorsement deal with Puma in the NBA.

It’s a five-year deal, according to reports, that will pay Bagley and his family quite a bit of money and will allow them to fund an AAU program for Bagley’s younger brother. That program will be coached by Marvin Bagley Jr., and that gets to the heart of what makes this decision so surprising.

Bagley III has always been considered a “Nike kid”. He played for Nike AAU programs throughout his high school career. The last two years, his father ran the program that he played for, originally called Phoenix Phamily but eventually changed to Nike Phamily. That meant that Nike was able to legally pay Bagley Jr. a significant amount of money to fund that program. Eventually, Bagley would up enrolling at Duke, one of Nike’s flagship college basketball programs.

This is not the way that it is supposed to go for a shoe company like Nike. The reason they spend as much money as they do in the youth ranks is to keep as many kids as possible loyal to the brand. It’s fairly easy to figure out who will end up having a chance at being an NBA player as early as 15 years old, but what’s harder to do is to predict who will actually be able to move product. Did anyone think James Harden or Damian Lillard would be worth a signature shoe? So these shoe companies will spend a relatively small amount of money to fly those kids around the country during their high school years, keep them decked out in their gear and hope that lottery ticket eventually pays off.

What is a couple hundred thousand dollar investment when the payoff is hundreds of millions of dollars in shoe sales? All you need to do is land one Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant to make the math work.

But that isn’t all that the shoe companies are looking for here.

With the amount of money that they have invested in sponsorship deals with these schools, they need to protect that investment. We saw it with Adidas and Louisville. They funneled $100,000 to Brian Bowen, a Nike kid, to get him to an Adidas school not because they thought he would end up being an uber-profitable spokesman but because they needed to protect their investment at the college level.

So while it’s easy to look at this and same that Bagley’s time spent at Duke helped him get a big, fat shoe contract, I think it’s the other way around. He helped Nike — without getting his market value — during his one season at Duke, and what it got him was a shoe contract worth roughly $1 million a year, according to Oregon Live.

Either way, the fact of the matter is that Bagley’s value to these brands is no different now than it was when he was playing for the Blue Devils.

Why is it only now that he’s allowed to cash in on it?