Manu Lecomte

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College Basketball’s Most Improved Players

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It really shouldn’t be all that much of a shock that Luke Kennard tops the list as the nation’s most improved player.

The 6-foot-6 shooting guard has been the best player on the roster for Duke this season, a team that is ranked in the top five by everyone with a valid a opinion and ranked No. 1 by the savvy forward-thinkers. He’s averaging 20.0 points, 6.1 boards and 3.3 assists and has been Duke’s best player in their four toughest games this season; against Michigan State, Rhode Island, Kansas and Florida, Kennard is averaging 23.8 points.

What’s surprising about Kennard’s season isn’t that he became an effective college basketball player – he was a McDonald’s All-American, he averaged 11.8 points last season, and he scored more points in high school than a guy named LeBron James – but that he’s been able to dominate like this on a team that has a chance to win a national title. That’s how good he’s been for Duke this season. Playing without Jayson Tatum for seven games, with a banged-up Grayson Allen and without Harry Giles III, Kennard’s has made Duke look like they could win the ACC and make the Final Four even if they never get back to full health.

He went from being the third-best player on a two-man Duke team as a freshman to this. Who saw that coming?

2. Manu Lecomte, Baylor: Lecomte was a good player at Miami during the 2014-15 season. Not great, but a solid piece for a good team. After sitting out last season at Baylor, he’s managed to play his way into being one of the best point guards in the Big 12 and one of the biggest reasons that the Bears are currently sitting in the top five of both polls. Lecomte’s averaging 13.9 points this year, and although his scoring has been somewhat inconsistent, he’s played well in Baylor’s big games. But the truly notable improvement has been in his ability to create offense for his teammates. Lecomte is averaging 5.3 assists after averaging 1.8 assists as a sophomore with Miami, and that playmaking was the biggest question mark that Baylor had entering the season.

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3. Semi Ojeleye, SMU: Ojeleye is a former four-star recruit that played a season and a half at Duke, so it’s not like this is a guy that never had any ability. We just never saw it featured at the college level, and now that we have, he’s proven to be worth the hype he had in high school. Having taken advantage of a season-and-a-half as a redshirt, he’s averaging 17.8 points and 7.6 boards on the year while, as a 6-foot-7 forward with elite athleticism, is shooting 41.5 percent from three. The Mustangs are still trying to find their footing after the Larry Brown fiasco this summer, but Ojeleye has turned into a really good piece to build around and one of the best players in the AAC.

4. Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame: Colson is generously listed at 6-foot-6, he isn’t an elite athlete and he’s a power forward, a front court weapon who does most of his damage in the low- and mid-post. And yet, he’s turned into the best player on Notre Dame and, along with Matt Farrell (who is much-improved in his own right), is the biggest reason the Irish appear to me much better than we expected. He’s averaging team-highs of 16.5 points and 10.8 boards this season and, at the least, deserves a mention in all-american consideration. Is anyone more underrated than Mike Brey when it comes to developing talent in his program?

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Bonzie Colson #35 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish attempts a shot as Donte DiVincenzo #10 of the Villanova Wildcats defends during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Villanova defeated Notre Dame 74-66. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Bonzie Colson (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

5. Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s: Saint Mary’s has found their next great Australian, and that’s Landale. He was super-efficient in limited minutes as a sophomore, but the 6-foot-11 Landale has been playing at like all-american this season for the Gaels. He’s averaging 18.4 points and 8.5 boards while shooting 67.4 percent from the floor as the anchor in Randy Bennett’s offensive attack.

6. Kyron Cartwright, Providence: Ed Cooley has always centered his offensive attack around his point guard. That’s just how he likes to play. Whether it’s Kris Dunn or Bryce Cotton or Vincent Council, Cooley’s has always demanded that his point guards carry a heavy load. The biggest question we had with the Friars this season was who would take on that role this year. Well, we have an answer now: It’s Kyron Cartwright, a player that few outside of the Big East diehards would have heard of entering the season. Cartwright is averaging just 8.8 points on the year, but he’s fifth in the country posting 7.7 assists per night, an incredibly important number for the better-than-we-thought Friars because of the lack of weapons this team has offensively. The fact that he’s doing so while averaging significantly fewer turnovers than Kris Dunn did as a starter is notable as well.

7. John Collins, Wake Forest: Before the season, who would have predicted that Collins would develop into the best player on Demon Deacons? Playing just 24 minutes a game, Collins is posting 18.0 points and 10.7 boards and has already collected six double-doubles on the season, including five in his last five games.

8. Tacko Fall, UCF: The 7-foot-6 Fall is so much more than just a super-tall dude that found his way onto a basketball court. He’s averaging 13.8 points, a nation’s-best 13.1 boards and 2.6 blocks in just 28 minutes a night. He’s running the floor, he’s scoring on post touches and he’s doing it all while staying out of foul trouble, which can be an issue for someone his size. The next step? Improve on that 34.1 percent free throw shooting before Hack-a-Tacko becomes a thing.

9. Kyle Washington, Cincinnati: Washington is another guy who took advantage of a redshirt year and a new environment. After struggling to find minutes in his two seasons at N.C. State, Washington has turned into the best player for the Bearcats, averaging 16.1 points and 8.0 boards for Mick Cronin’s club, who appear to be the favorite in the AAC and are ranked in the top 25.

10. Obi Enechionya, Temple: Enechionya has developed into a real life NBA prospect. He’s turned into Temple’s go-to guy, averaging 18.6 points on the season, but what makes him such an intriguing player is a unique aspect of his skill-set: At 6-foot-10, he’s shooting 49.2 percent from three (while attempting more than six per game) and blocking 2.9 shots a night. No player has averaged three made threes per game and 2.9 blocks per game in a season since 1993, which is as far back as I can find data.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Isaiah Briscoe #13 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball up court against the Hofstra Pride in the first half of the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at Barclays Center on December 11, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Isaiah Briscoe  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

TEN MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • 11. Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky: Briscoe has been terrific this season for Kentucky, but it’s hard to rank him in the top ten of this list when the single-biggest flaw in his game – his perimeter shooting – hasn’t gotten much better.
  • 12. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: Evans has developed into one of the best point guards in the country, but it’s tough to figure out where to rank him because we saw this coming before he got injured at the end of last season.
  • 13. Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech: The bright spot in what will likely be a long Georgia Tech season, Lammers is averaging 15.8 points, 10.8 boards and 4.6 blocks, which leads the country. He averaged 3.6 points and 4.0 boards as a sophomore last year.
  • 14. Khyri Thomas, Creighton: We knew how good Mo Watson Jr. and Marcus Foster would be. I don’t think many expected Thomas to average 13.3 points, shoot 53.3 percent from three and develop into Creighton’s best perimeter defender.
  • 15. Esa Ahmad and Nathan Adrian, West Virginia: The biggest reason that West Virginia hasn’t taken a step back with what they lost last year? Ahmad and Adrian are playing at a borderline all-Big 12 level.
  • 16. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has turned into one of the best non-Kentucky players in the SEC this season. Check this line: 18.7 points, 6.7 boards, 4.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.3 blocks, 48.3 percent on threes. Now he just has to get back from suspension.
  • 17. JaCorey Williams, MTSU: It’s tough to know just how much of this is opportunity and the level he’s playing at, but Williams has gone from averaging 4.5 points at Arkansas to averaging 19.0 points for one of the nation’s most dangerous mid-majors.
  • 18. Kyle Kuzma, Utah: We expected Kuzma to take a step forward this season, and while his scoring numbers aren’t quite as high as I thought they would be, his averages of 15.8 points, 10.3 boards and 3.3 assists for a young Utah team are impressive.
  • 19. Reid Travis, Stanford: Travis came off of injury to be the best player for Stanford this season, averaging 17.7 points and 9.4 boards.
  • 20. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan has played his way into all-american consideration, but he’d be higher on this list if his turnover issues hadn’t popped up of late. He has 13 giveaways in his last two games.

Miami beats up No. 4 Duke, ends nation’s longest home-court win streak

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Entering Tuesday night, Duke had not lost in Cameron Indoor Stadium since March of 2012, a streak that had reached 41 games, the longest in the nation.

That all changed thanks to Miami, as the Hurricanes put up 56 points on the Blue Devils in the second half of a 90-74 win. Angel Rodriguez, who thrives for moments like this, finished with 24 points, five assists and five steals and Manu Lecomte added a career-high 23 points as the Hurricanes hit 10 threes in the win.

Duke got a combined 29 points and 27 boards — 14 offensive — from Jahlil Okafor and Amile Jefferson, but between Okafor’s struggles finishing in the post and the shooting issues that the Duke guards had on Tuesday night, the Blue Devils dug themselves a hole that they couldn’t get out of.

It’s the second straight loss for the Blue Devils, who dropped a road game against N.C. State on Sunday afternoon.

I’ll write more on this tomorrow, but the issue for the Blue Devils is on the defensive end of the floor. They have some major defensive issues that they are going to have to work their way through. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones are both small guards and below-average on-ball defenders, which creates a problem with the way that Duke likes to defend in their half-court man-to-man defense. They consistently have been geting beaten off the dribble far too easily.

It doesn’t help that Okafor is not a rim protector or much help defending pick-and-roll actions. It leaves the guards hung out to dry, and when you’re going against someone as good as Rodriguez of N.C. State’s Trevor Lacey, that becomes a major problem.

Back to Miami, this is a major win for the Hurricanes. Obviously. It’s going to look terrific on their tournament resume come March, and it will help the committee overlook the fact that this group lost to Green Bay and Eastern Kentucky by a combined 41 points in Coral Gables. More than that, this is the kind of confidence-boosting win that can change the course of a team’s season.

They just game the entire ACC the blueprint on how to beat the Blue Devils.

Miami guard could be back sooner than expected

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On Monday, Miami guard Sheldon McClellan was named ACC Player of the Week after averaging 24.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists per game in two wins for the Hurricanes.

The back court received more good news besides McClellan’s accolades, as sophomore guard Davon Reed is on track to rejoin the No. 15 team in the country sooner than expected, according to Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun-Sentinel.

In early September, Reed was ruled out 4-6 months following surgery on his left knee. The team was intending on having Reed back in the line up until at least January. However, the Sun-Sentinel is reporting that Reed took part in warmups on Friday night against South Alabama.

“How quickly we can actually put him in a game. … I talked to him yesterday and said ‘You let me know when you’re ready. I’m ready to put you in tomorrow,'” Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga told Cabrera Chirinos. “He’s not ready for that yet. He’s only had maybe an hour and a half of practice, but what Davon provides this team differently is some experience at defending and rebounding the way I want our players to do it.”

Larrañaga is hoping to get Reed back on the floor at some point this month. From the looks of it, the recovery looks to be going well:

Reed, who averaged 6.6 points per game last season, will join a deep perimeter for the Hurricanes with McClellan, Angel Rodriguez, Manu Lecomte (all averaging double figures), Deandre Burnett, James Palmer and freshman Ja’Quan Newton all logging more than 14 minutes per game.

Miami will take on its second ranked opponent this season on Tuesday night, hosting No. 24 Illinois, part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Miami caps 4-0 week with second Gildan Charleston Classic title

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With nine players entering their first season playing for Jim Larrañaga, there weren’t high expectations for the Miami Hurricanes prior to the start of the 2014-15 campaign. Miami was picked to finish tenth in the ACC’s preseason media poll, which is exactly where they wound up last season. However after what the Hurricanes have managed to accomplish in the last seven days, there may be a need to reevaluate Larrañaga’s Hurricanes.

Sunday evening Miami capped a 4-0 week with a 77-58 win over Charlotte in the title game of the Gildan Charleston Classic, going on a 22-6 second half run that removed all doubt. Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan led five Hurricanes in double figures with 19 points to go along with eight rebounds, and as a team Miami shot 50 percent from the field. The difference offensively was what Miami was able to do inside of the arc, as they shot 6-for-22 from three.

Thanks to a mixture of good ball movement and spacing, Miami shot 63.2% from two and scored 44 of their 77 points in the paint. Add in the fact that the Hurricanes were able to convert 19 Charlotte turnovers into 27 points, and it isn’t all that difficult to see why Miami moved to 5-0 for the first time since the 2009-10 season. Coincidentally, Miami won the Charleston Classic that season as well.

While the two transfer guards, McClellan and point guard Angel Rodriguez, have received a significant amount of attention during Miami’s run of success this is a balanced team. Junior center Tonye Jekiri added 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks against Charlotte, and guards Manu Lecomte (15 points) and James Palmer (12) also finished the game in double figures. Balance is going to be the key for Miami as they look to improve on last season’s results, despite what Rodriguez’s heroics in Gainesville may have led some to believe.

Miami shot 50 percent or better in two of their three games in Charleston, and just as importantly held their opponents below 40 percent in two games as well (Drexel and Akron). Charlotte, which lost Braxton Ogbueze in the first half to a knee injury, struggled to achieve the balance they enjoyed in their two tournament wins, which was a product of both Obgueze’s absence and Miami’s work on the defensive end.

Four wins in seven days is quite the accomplishment for a team with so many new pieces, and to be fair the Hurricanes won’t be “whole” for quite some time. Ivan Cruz Uceda won’t be eligible to play until January 13, and he’ll give Miami a big man who’s more than capable of holding his own on the boards. And the Hurricanes have also been without guard Davon Reed, who suffered an injury in early September and at the time was expected to miss anywhere from four to six months.

Miami’s had to make do with the pieces they currently have, and thus far the Hurricanes have looked good doing so.