Articles By Athlon Sports
“We love the guys we have in the program,” Kruger says. “They’re a group that is easy to watch and fun to cheer for from a Sooner fan perspective.”
And it’s a group that’s contributed to steady progress, with four starters returning, including leading scorer Buddy Hield, from last season’s 23–10 squad that finished second in the Big 12.
Still, true progress is measured in NCAA Tournament wins. And while OU has earned its way into the bracket the past two years, they’ve exited quickly, sticking around for just one game each time.
“I like where we’re at,” Kruger says. “Always like to be further along and further ahead. We’ve got to keep working at it. We’ve got to keep making progress. I think we’ve got young guys in the program now that understand that.”
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Ryan Spangler needs help. And whether or not he gets it could swing the Sooners ahead — or hold them back. At 6-8, Spangler is best suited for a power forward role, as a face-up shooter with versatile skills. Forced to play center a year ago, he faced a grind that took a physical toll and frequently landed him in foul trouble. Still, he averaged 9.6 points and a team-high 9.3 rebounds, shooting 58.4 percent from the floor — numbers that could easily expand under less stress.
The ideal hope for help lies with the NCAA’s ruling on transfer TaShawn Thomas, who is seeking a waiver in the wake of a coaching change at his former school, Houston. Thomas, a 6-8, 240-pounder with the body to play the post, led the Cougars with 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game and ranked No. 14 nationally with a 59.1 field goal percentage. A tandem of Spangler and Thomas would be formidable.
If Thomas fails in his appeal, the Sooners could be scrambling. Veteran D.J. Bennett is a solid defender and shot-blocker, but is limited offensively. C.J. Cole is a sophomore who has been slow to assert himself. Dante Buford is the most advanced of a promising group of freshmen, yet packs just 208 pounds on his 6-7 frame.
Oklahoma Sooners Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-10, 12-6 Big 12
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAA appearances: 2
Coach: Lon Kruger (58-38 at Oklahoma, 28-26 Big 12)
Big 12 Projection: Fourth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
The Sooners are loaded at the guard spots, despite Je’lon Hornbeak’s exit in search of more playing time at Monmouth.
Hield emerged as one of the Big 12’s best, averaging 16.5 points and leading the team with 90 3-pointers in his sophomore season. And Kruger believes Hield can do even more by meshing the attacking style he displayed as a freshman with the catch-and-shoot skills seen in his second season.
“That combination of the two years, where he’s attacking more, although we want him to keep shooting it well,” Kruger says. “We’d want him to get back to attacking the paint and finishing at the free throw line, if not the rim.”
Jordan Woodard seized the point guard spot as a freshman a year ago, starting every game and leading the team in assists (4.6 apg) while scoring at a 10.3 clip. He also proved fearless, taking and making several big shots late in games.
Isaiah Cousins also returns as a starter, having survived a scary situation after an errant gunshot lodged in the back of his shoulder. A full recovery is expected.
Junior college transfer Dinjiyl Walker can play either guard spot and is being counted on to backup Woodard at the point after Hornbeak’s departure. Frank Booker gave the Sooners a boost off the bench a year ago, when he hit 36.8 percent from 3-point range. He could see his role increase.
After consecutive seasons of going one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament, last season as a favorite, the Sooners are yearning for more — much more. The reality of taking the next step is tied to beefing up production in the paint.
The guards are good, among the league’s best as a group. Yet if the Sooners can’t find balance, and Spangler remains out of position, their postseason potential will be limited again.
“We’ve been to the tournament now a couple of years,” Kruger says. “Now we want to go farther in the tournament and win games in the tournament. That’s the challenge that lies ahead.”
TaShawn Thomas started 96 career games at Houston, averaging 14.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots over three seasons. He’ll be a major addition to the frontcourt if he’s granted immediate eligibility. Dante Buford could be asked to contribute immediately up front. A home school star in Houston, Khadeem Lattin is a skilled big man who could be a future star. Jamuni McNeace is a bit of a project who needs to bulk up.
For a coach who promotes daily competition, the end of last season was difficult on Bruce Weber. Though Kansas State made it back to the NCAA Tournament, its roster wasn’t healthy enough to properly prepare for the postseason.
“We couldn’t go five-on-five that last month because we didn’t have any of our big guys,” Weber says. “They played in games, but they didn’t practice. Our scout squad got a lot of action.”
The result: A 20-win season that exceeded most expectations ended with a whimper. The Wildcats lost their final four games, including a 56–49 setback to Kentucky in the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament.
A better fate is expected this season. Marcus Foster, Wesley Iwundu, Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams form a talented nucleus. And a group of promising newcomers, led by Maine transfer Justin Edwards and freshman Malek Harris, appears poised to replace the loss of only one full-time starter.
“The best thing is the competitiveness of it all,” Weber says. “They have to come every day and earn minutes. If they aren’t working in practice, there is somebody else there. We didn’t have that last year.”
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K-State will have a new — and bigger — look inside. Instead of spreading the floor with four guards with Gipson down on the block all by himself, the Wildcats will use multiple big men this season. Gipson, who averaged 11.7 points and led the team in both rebounding (6.5 rpg) and field goal shooting (.562), will remain the leader of the group, but he will have much more support and the freedom to play both power forward and center.
Stephen Hurt, a highly regarded junior college transfer, and Georgetown transfer Brandon Bolden will add much-needed size. Hurt had a promising start to his college career at Lipscomb, and the 6-11, 260-pounder is eager to return to Division I action after a stop at Northwestern Florida State College. Bolden hasn’t scored in a live game since high school, but the 6-11 shot-blocker will bring both athleticism and defense to the floor.
Williams, an undersized power forward, had some big moments last year, including 15 points in a win over Oklahoma State and 20 points in an overtime loss to Baylor. Reserve forward/center D.J. Johnson will also try to build on his promising finish to his sophomore season.
Kansas State Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-13, 10-8 Big 12
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAA appearances: 5
Coach: Bruce Weber (47-21 at Kansas State, 10-8 Big 12)
Big 12 Projection: Fifth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
Foster was one of the biggest surprises in college basketball last season. A lightly regarded recruit, the Texas native emerged as Kansas State’s No. 1 option on offense as a freshman and led the team with a 15.5-point average.
Don’t be surprised, however, if Edwards becomes the Wildcats’ leading scorer this season. The 6-4 Canadian, regarded as an outstanding athlete and a prodigious dunker, averaged 16.7 points as a sophomore at Maine two years ago. On the flip side, he only shot 27.3 percent from 3-point range and averaged 4.0 turnovers.
Foster and Edwards are natural shooting guards, which could make it tough to play them both at the same time for long stretches without a true point guard on the court. Foster has worked hard on his ball-handling in the offseason in an effort to help Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas at the point.
Iwundu and Harris, both 6-7, will both play significant minutes. Iwundu started in 32 games as a freshman and scored in double figures on eight occasions. Harris was a top-100 national recruit who might also see time at the 4.
Kansas State hasn’t advanced past the NCAA Tournament’s round of 64 since 2012 and hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2010. Both those streaks could come to an end this season if things fall into place. The Wildcats have talent, depth and versatility. That combination doesn’t always add up to success. Team chemistry is never a given, and adjusting to new lineups can be difficult.
Still, K-State has a roster ready to compete for a Big 12 championship and to win in March.
“It’s going to be about coming together,” Foster says. “Everybody is so good. All of these guys have already played college basketball before. We won’t be going through a learning experience like we did last year. It will just be about meshing as a team.”
Justin Edwards, a Maine transfer, was a star in practice last year. Brandon Bolden, a 6-11 Georgetown transfer, is already ready to contribute after a year off. Junior college transfer Stephen Hurt will provide much-needed size, while freshman guard Tre Harris should help as a shooter. Malek Harris, a late addition, is the highest-rated recruit Bruce Weber has signed since coming to K-State.
Kansas has won at least a share of 10 consecutive Big 12 titles, but the league is anything but dull even if the Jayhawks manage to win the conference title every season.
The 10-team league produced seven NCAA Tournament teams last season, and every team in the league besides TCU was a threat on a nightly basis.
Asking the Big 12 to replicate that kind of balance and consistent entertainment will be tough, but this league will try.
At the top, Kansas reloads as usual with freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre stepping in for Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. The Jayhawks should have a bona fide challenger in Texas, which adds five-star freshman Myles Turner to a core that saved Rick Barnes’ job a year ago.
Iowa State brings in a handful of impact transfers as again, and Oklahoma and Kansas State figure to be factors under veteran coaches Lon Kruger and Bruce Weber.
The league’s depth from last season will be tested, though, as Baylor and Oklahoma State figure to take steps back after losing key personnel.
Previews of every Big 12 team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.
2014-15 Big 12 Predictions
1. Kansas (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Elite Eight
Even without Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, the Jayhawks are Big 12 favorites … again. It’s Perry Ellis’ time to shine.
2. Texas (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Only a year removed from the hot seat, Rick Barnes has a contender in Austin. Isaiah Taylor is a star.
3. Iowa State (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The Cyclones lost two of the Big 12’s top five players in DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim but welcome back Georges Niang.
4. Oklahoma (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
Buddy Hield emerged as a star during his sophomore season and should be even better this year.
5. Kansas State (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
When Marcus Foster is on, the Wildcats are good enough to beat anyone in the league.
Postseason projection: NIT
Redshirt freshman Johnathan Motley has to come up big for the Bears down low.
7. Oklahoma State
Postseason projection: NIT
Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte are studs, but will that be enough to make the NCAA Tournament?
8. West Virginia
Postseason projection: NIT
A rash of offseason defections will hurt the Mountaineers, but Bob Huggins did a nice job reloading.
The Horned Frogs were winless in the Big 12 last season; they won’t be in 2014-15.
10. Texas Tech
Getting players to Lubbock — and keeping them there — has been tough for Tubby Smith.
2014-15 Big 12 Superlatives
2014-15 Big 12 Superlatives
Player of the Year: Perry Ellis, Kansas
Lost in the talk of two of the top three NBA draft picks (Wiggins and Embiid) was the play of Ellis, who delivered on a breakout season. Ellis averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds last season and should be in position to pace the Jayhawks again.
Best Defensive Player: Cameron Ridley, Texas
The 6-9, 285-pound Ridley enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore, averaging 11.2 points and 8.2 rebounds. He’s been a force around the rim with 2.2 blocks per game.
Most Underrated Player: Monté Morris, Iowa State
Morris finished last season with 134 assists to only 28 turnovers. Not bad for a freshman.
Newcomer of the Year: Cliff Alexander, Kansas
Ellis has offensive versatility. Alexander will team with him in the Kansas frontcourt with a physical presence in the paint.
Top Coach: Bill Self, Kansas (full Big 12 coach rankings)
First-team All-Big 12
G Juwan Staten, West Virginia
G Marcus Foster, Kansas State
G Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
F Georges Niang, Iowa State
F Perry Ellis, Kansas
Second-team All-Big 12
G Isaiah Taylor, Texas
G Kenny Chery, Baylor
G/F Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State
F Cliff Alexander, Kansas
F Jonathan Holmes, Texas
Third-team All-Big 12
G Kelly Oubre, Kansas
G Phil Forte, Oklahoma State
G Wayne Selden, Kansas
F Thomas Gipson, Kansas State
C Cameron Ridley, Texas
Tuesday marks the beginning of the MLB Free Agency signing period. Here is a list of the most interesting available free agents that are on the baseball market and where they might end up for the 2015 season.
Ever since Lester was traded to the A’s in July, the talk of him being on the North side of Chicago immediately began to gain traction — and it makes sense. Lester is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and he’s never shown signs of fatigue or had a significant injury, which makes him all but guaranteed to get a well-deserved big pay day this winter. The Cubs definitely make sense. Theo Epstein has been very forthcoming acknowledging that the Cubs are in the market for a number one pitcher after dealing away 40 percent of their rotation the past couple of seasons for top prospects. The Cubs are in a position to make a splash, and Lester is a heck of a good fit in Cubby blue. Long shots could include the Red Sox and maybe the Mets and Tigers. Boston has already acknowledged they plan to meet with Lester, while the Mets are looking to build upon the return of Matt Harvey, and the Tigers could be bracing themselves for the loss of Max Scherzer.
Possible teams: Cubs, Red Sox, Mets, Tigers
Shields is the third-best available starting pitcher on the market following Lester and Max Scherzer, but will still command a large contract for more than three years. If Shields plays his cards right, sees where Lester or Scherzer go first, he could end up in a fantastic spot with a fat amount of cash in his pocket. Shields has the same possible suitors as Lester and Scherzer with maybe a few lesser teams in the mix, assuming his contract will be worth less than the other aces. Shields is 33, two and three years older than Lester and Scherzer, so his contract will be less in terms of years. Look for the Rangers, Dodgers, and Braves to be in the mix for Big Game James.
Possible teams: Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers, Braves, Mets, Rangers, Tigers
Cuddyer spent the past three seasons in Colorado, where he put up career numbers in 2013 (.331/.389/.530 20 HR, 84 RBI, .919 OPS). The issue is that Cuddyer will be 36 going into next season, and he has had a history of injuries that limited him to just 49 games this past season in Colorado. He is a very solid bat and can play outfield, third or first base. But since he is creeping up in age, look for him to sign a deal in the two- to three-year range being a DH in the American or playing first, with an outside shot at playing outfield.
Possible teams: Mets, Oakland, Rangers, Mariners
The Tigers have already made a $15.3 million qualifying offer to Martinez, who had a career year in 2014 (.335/.409/.565 32 HR, 103 RBI, 33 2B, 42 SO,.979 OPS). The 35-year-old very well could make more on the open market, but my gut says Detroit will pony up a few extra mil a year to keep the switch-hitting Swiss army knife defender. Martinez will be probably be offered a three-year deal worth almost $18 mil per year.
Possible teams: Tigers
Morse very well could end up staying in San Francisco, but I kind of doubt it. Morse spent most of last season in left field for the Giants but also saw time playing first base. Morse has pop but also is a little strikeout-prone. He is the kind of player the Yankees love to overpay for, but in that tiny ballpark, Morse could be a monster. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Giants or go to the Bronx, Morse would be a welcome fit for other AL East teams like the Red Sox or Orioles, who are both looking for more pop in their lineup. If the O’s aren't able to resign Nelson Cruz, look for them to make a serious run at Morse.
Possible teams: Giants, Yankees, Red Sox, Mariners, Orioles
The Nationals declined their team option on LaRoche after it became pretty clear that Ryan Zimmerman was going to be the club’s first baseman for the foreseeable future. LaRoche is a decent enough bat that he could stay in the NL, maybe with the Pirates or Marlins, who may want to upgrade at first base. I think he would be a great fit for the Mariners as a DH, not too expensive, probably $10 million a year for two or three years, and decent protection for Robinson Cano.
Possible teams: Mariners, Pirates, Marlins
Weeks still hasn't blossomed into the player that many thought he could become, a perennial All-Star. The Brewers declined his $11.3 million club option this past week, making Weeks a free agent. It is safe to say that Weeks will not get anything near the $11 mil he was making in Milwaukee, especially since he saw his role diminish over the course of the season. Weeks needs a new scene with a team that doesn't have the pressure to make the postseason, and where he isn’t a main lineup option.
Possible teams: Rockies, Rays, Diamondbacks
When Hanley is healthy, he is one of the best shortstops in the game. The problem is, Hanley is hardly ever healthy. Hanley is very likely to be overpaid this coming season by a team looking to make a splash, and if he is healthy, he could be absolutely worth it. My best guess is that teams would be willing to offer him a short-term deal north of $12 mil per season with the option of signing him long term if he produces. Hanley has shown in the past that he is capable of hitting well over .300 with some pop, hitting at least 20 homers in six seasons, all while playing fairly solid defense. Hanley very well could stay in LA, but I think it is a long shot. There is a team on the other side of the country looking to replace its long-time shortstop, and it's a team in desperate need of offense. Could Hanley end up in pinstripes?
Possible teams: Yankees, Dodgers, Mets
McGehee, the NL Comeback Player of the Year, is in line for a nice contract after his 2014 career year. The 32-year-old McGehee would be a nice, not-too-expensive fit for the Mariners to knock in the runs they so desperately need to compete in the AL West. McGehee might actually be the third baseman that the Yankees have been longing for, assuming A-Rod and Chase Headley won’t be on the roster come 2015. If the Miami Marlins were smart (they aren’t), they would make McGehee an offer he couldn't refuse, keeping him at the hot corner for the next several years while the team continues to improve.
Possible teams: Mariners, Yankees, Marlins
The Panda has said that he wants to stay in San Francisco where he has made his home and earned three World Series titles in five seasons. But Sandoval is said to be seeking a $100 million contract, something he may find somewhere other than the City by the Bay. Sandoval is a very capable switch-hitting third baseman who always shows up in the postseason. In the past, there have been questions involving his physical conditioning and physique, but there hasn’t been a single negative report about his attitude. His teammates love playing with him. We’ve mentioned how the Yankees love to over pay their free agents, and Panda might just find himself playing in the Bronx next summer. Pablo could also end up playing third for the Yank’s biggest rival, the Boston Red Sox or other AL contenders such as the Tigers or Mariners. The off the wall idea of Sandoval in a Rangers uniform isn't all that crazy, assuming that Prince Fielder will be strictly a DH next season, as long as Sandoval is willing to switch positions to play first. If the Marlins want to make a significant push towards next October, they very well may make a run at Sandoval as well.
Possible teams: Giants, Rangers, Marlins, Yankees, Red Sox
Martin will be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market come Tuesday. Billy Beane and the A’s have hinted that they may be in the market for a more well-rounded bat to add to their sink-or-swim lineup and may go after Martin. The Cubs seem to be the consensus as Martin’s top option as it is very unlikely that the Pirates will re-sign the catcher. Martin would be the veteran bat the Cubs need to guide younger hitters and also be a clubhouse leader under new manager Joe Maddon. Also, the Dodgers, not afraid to write checks, could make a run for their former backstop to bring up the .181 batting average their catchers posted this past season.
Possible teams: Cubs, A’s, Dodgers
The other catcher who will be on teams’ radars in the coming days is former NL Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto. Soto finished up last season with the Oakland As and is likely to go elsewhere. Originally seen as a solid hitter with higher than average power for a catcher, Soto could find himself replacing Russell Martin in Pittsburgh or Miguel Montero in Arizona. Either would be a nice fit for Soto if he can sign a deal north of two years.
Possible teams: Pirates, Diamondbacks
The World Series runners-up, the Kansas City Royals have denied the $12.5 million dollar option on their longest-tenured player, Billy Butler. It is highly improbable that Butler finds a long term deal with a team willing to pay him north of $10 mil a season. He may have to settle for a one- or two-year deal coming in around $8 mil. The other question is whether teams will want Butler to play first or DH? Due to the emergence of Eric Hosmer the past few seasons, Butler saw his play at first diminish, only seeing the field 37 times this past season. Butler could be a cheaper DH option for the A’s, White Sox and Mariners, or a first base option for the Rangers. Butler, only 28 years old, could see himself in the National League, playing in Pittsburgh or Miami as both teams look to improve upon their first base conundrums.
Possible teams: A’s, White Sox, Mariners, Rangers, Pirates, Marlins
Cruz was the steal of free agency last winter as he signed with the Orioles for just $8 million on a one-year deal. This offseason will see the price for Cruz’s services increase after he led all of baseball with 40 home runs. The Orioles are in a position where they can offer Cruz just enough money to be their DH for the long term, especially since teams may be wary of Cruz’s age (34), his inability to stay healthy for long stretches, and the thought of losing a top draft pick because of his potential qualifying offer. On the flip side, teams are desperate for power and will be happy to overpay for 35-plus homers a season for the next three to four years.
Possible teams: Orioles, White Sox, Mariners, Yankees
The Baltimore Orioles declined Markakis’ $17.5 mutual option for 2015, and probably rightfully so. Rumors have been swirling around the past couple of days that the Orioles are working on a deal to retain their long term right fielder, which is a good idea for both parties. The O’s would have trouble finding an outfielder that can play good enough defense while also chipping in offensively, maybe Nori Aoki, but he doesn't fit in with the power-first approach of Buck Showalter’s offense. If Baltimore and Markakis can’t reach a deal for the 30-year-old’s services, he may find himself on a less talented team that is looking for a veteran to help younger players develop.
Possible teams: Orioles, White Sox, Twins, Royals, Mets,
The Texas Rangers declined Rios' $13.5 million option, making the veteran outfielder a free agent. Rios responded by hiring baseball super agent Scott Boras to be his representative. Early rumors have the Mets as the frontrunners to sign Rios, but after last year’s signing of Curtis Granderson, I doubt that they Mets will be willing to sign another veteran outfielder with declining numbers. The Cincinnati Reds may be a nice fit for Rios on a one- or two-year deal. The Reds struggled to put up runs with the long term losses of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips, and Rios may find another power surge in Great American Ball Park, where everyone is a power threat.
Possible teams: Mets, Reds, Tigers
Max Scherzer could very well end up in right where he is at, in Detroit. Scherzer may have the best chance of winning a World Series in the next couple of seasons if he stays in the Motor City, as long as he gets some help in the bullpen. Mad Max could sign a two-year contract, see how things pan out in Detroit, and be a free agent again in two seasons at the age of 32, or be traded before hand to a contender if things aren't going to plan. Really, the baseball world is Scherzer’s oyster, but he stands to make the most money if he hits the open market.
Possible teams: Tigers, Red Sox, Cubs, Mets, Rangers
No doubt about it, Jake Peavy can still pitch. Peavy didn't have his best stuff in the Giants' last World Series title run, but he was a big reason why the Giants were even in the postseason after he was traded during Ben Cherington’s July housecleaning-slash-rebuilding project in Boston. The 33-year-old hurler will command at least a two-year deal as a top-of-the-rotation-type guy, but it won't be to be anyone’s ace. Much like previous pitchers mentioned on this list, Peavy could be a nice fit for the Cubs or Red Sox pitching staff. Or, Peavy could find himself in Atlanta, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Oakland, Miami, or LA, as a very solid number two pitcher. The Yankees have been pretty adamant that they aren’t going to go after a top-of-the-line ace, but I think Peavy could be a target as a number two or three man in their rotation after Tanaka and Pineda. A wild card team could be the Blue Jays after their starting pitching was so lackluster this past season.
Possible teams: Blue Jays, Giants, Yankees, Cubs, Rangers, Marlins, Braves, Pirates, Reds, Royals, A’s
Justin Masterson, Edinson Volquez, Brandon Morrow
Much like Jake Peavy, Masterson, Volquez, and Morrow should wind up a contending team’s roster as at least a mid-rotation starting pitcher.
If Cleveland was smart, they would lock up Masterson to a multi-year contract. They are just a few pieces away from really putting together a contending team for the next couple of seasons. But potential suitors will be looking to sign Masterson, who is only 29, to a long-term deal to make him a possible number two starter.
Volquez will be looking for big money after resurrecting his career in Pittsburgh. Volquez could sign for more than he is worth to a team looking to make a big move. Volquez’s winter will be one of the more interesting ones in terms of available free agents. I can definitely see a team like the Braves or the Yankees forking over $90 million to Volquez to be a shutdown pitcher, and it completely backfiring. Buyer beware with Edinson Volquez.
Brandon Morrow was supposed to be the Blue Jays ace that never was. After several impressive seasons north of the border, the Jays have decided to pick up the vet’s $10 million option. Morrow’s winter will be another intersting one, as many teams will be timid to offer the 30-year-old a long-term deal after he made just 16 starts in the past two seasons due to injury.
All three of these pitchers will be in contact with many of the same clubs.
Possible teams for all three: Brewers, Cubs, Red Sox, A’s, Braves, Dodgers, Angels, Yankees, Indians, Royals, Rangers, Marlins, Mets
By Jake Rose
Monday: New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies, 8:00 PM ET
Anthony Davis is the future of NBA big men — an insanely long, multi-skilled player with enough athleticism and speed to both protect your rim and slash to it to score from deep on the perimeter. But the Grizzlies’ bashing interior of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol know more than enough tricks to slow the third-year sensation down, along with his new front court partner Omer Asik. Tune in for the showdown between two of the best big man combos in basketball.
Tuesday: Cleveland Cavaliers at Portland Trail Blazers, 10:00 PM ET
LeBron’s traveling circus continues Tuesday as he and his Cavs travel to take on one of last year’s surprise playoff contenders in the West. Buried beneath the constant hype of James will be a couple of compelling match-ups — those between Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving, two of the most dynamic point guards around, and Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge, two devastating stretch-four power forwards.
Wednesday: Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors, 10:30 PM ET
These teams don’t like each other. They brawled last Christmas, and there’s usually some sort of altercation between the squads when they play. The Warriors will be out for revenge after a bitter seven-game series loss to the Clippers in last year’s postseason.
Thursday: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets, 7:30 PM ET
Texas supremacy will hang in the balance Thursday as Dwight Howard, James Harden and Co. continue their chip-on-your-shoulder campaign against the defending champions. San Antonio’s high-powered motion offense should put the Rockets’ new-look defense to the test.
Friday: Washington Wizards at Toronto Raptors, 7:30 PM ET
Paul Pierce loves to put down the young ones, as he did in last year’s seven-game series defeat of the Toronto Raptors, in the postseason’s first round. Now Pierce is a Wizard, not a Net, and he looks to be cherishing the role of sage, trash-talking enforcer for young point guard John Wall. Look for Pierce to play vicious Raptor head games in this telling Eastern Conference battle.
— John Wilmes
With Mike Leach at the helm of the Washington State program, a few things are sure to be certain. The Cougars will be a pass-heavy offensive team with little to work with on defense. With the nation’s number one passing offense piling up huge numbers this season off the arm of Connor Halliday, Leach will have to find a way to keep moving forward without his starting quarterback. Halliday was injured in a 44-17 loss to USC this weekend, and the senior will miss the rest of the season with a broken leg. The injury brings the senior’s season and collegiate career to an end with 3,873 passing yards and 32 touchdowns this season, and 11,308 career passing yards and 90 touchdowns.
So, where does Leach have to turn in hopes of keeping the aerial attacks coming for Washington State’s final three games of the 2014 season? Freshman Luke Falk replaced Halliday against USC, and Leach did not hesitate to let him use his arm either. Falk attempted 57 pass attempts off the bench, completing 38 of them for 370 yards and a pair of touchdowns (and one interception). It was just the second appearance of the season for Falk, who completed each of his two attempts for 86 yards in a game against Portland State earlier in the year. Running the offense will now be the responsibility of this relatively unknown quarterback out of Utah for the rest of the season.
Falk enrolled at Washington State as a recruit without much hype or praise out of high school, despite at one point having an early offer from Florida State. Once receiving an early offer from Florida State, Falk’s stock dropped following a high school transfer. By the time he was ready to choose a school, the only programs looking for his services came from the Ivy League or Idaho, for the most part. The Utah product was a two-star prospect according to Rivals. He had originally committed to Cornell before a coaching change at the program left Falk to re-evaluate his options. This ended with Falk heading to Washington State to walk-on for a spot on the roster.
With some roster changes along the way at Washington State since Falk’s enrollment, Falk has seen increased reps in practice in the event Halliday was roughed up. Considering the state of the offensive line protection provided to Halliday, giving Falk as many snaps as possible in practice was wise for Leach. Now, Washington State may be trotting out a quarterback without much game experience, but it will not be using a player that has not been properly prepared for this situation.
If nothing else, Washington State has a quarterback that has shown glimpses of being able to lead the Washington State offense without losing much of a step off the bench. Perhaps it is the Leach system, and Falk has fit into it well enough. Falk certainly has worked hard to earn a chance to lead the offense, and it is not one likely to be taken lightly for the redshirt freshman. This also serves as an opportunity to prove why he should be the leading candidate for the starting job at Washington State in 2015.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Michigan State claimed a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl victory on the strength of its defense last season. Penn State is wasting a perfectly good defensive effort this season. When discussing the best defenses in the Big Ten, Wisconsin tends to fly under the radar, but it is the defense that could lead the Badgers back to Indianapolis for a shot at a Big Ten championship this season.
The Badgers have just allowed a total of seven points against Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers the past two weeks, helping the Wisconsin defense move into third in the nation in defensive scoring. The most recent defensive effort turned in a shutout victory on the road against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have played tough at home (ask Penn State and Michigan), but the Badgers defensive effort helped make it easy for the offense to run away with a victory in New Jersey.
Wisconsin has allowed just 14.1 points per game this season. The Badgers, not Michigan State, currently have the Big Ten’s best total defense as well, allowing an average of just 253.8 yards per game through eight games. Penn State has allowed 273.4 yards per game, and Michigan State has allowed 279.4 yards per game. If Wisconsin keeps on this pace, the Badgers will successfully improve on their total defensive average for a second straight season.
Wisconsin starts making things difficult for opposing teams by aiming to take away the running game. The Badgers have held five opponents under 100 rushing yards this season, and Wisconsin has allowed just seven rushing touchdowns in eight games. On top of that, Wisconsin is the best team in the Big Ten against the pass, perhaps making a claim to having their own no-fly zone this season. The Badgers may not get their hands on a ton of passes (just five interceptions in eight games), but they have allowed just six passing touchdowns this season. No team in the Big Ten has allowed a lower completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks than Wisconsin (46.3 percent). Michael Caputo has been one of the leaders of the Wisconsin secondary, and he also leads the Badgers with 57 tackles this season.
Wisconsin was written off by some with a season-opening loss to LSU in Houston, and again after a tough loss at Northwestern. The defense came up small against LSU in the first game of the season while failing to protect a lead, and the Northwestern game was doomed more by losing four turnovers on offense, but Wisconsin’s defense has been a big reason why the Badgers are still in the race for the Big Ten West Division (having Melvin Gordon running the football certainly helps too, of course).
The formula for winning at Wisconsin remains similar to when Bret Bielema was coaching the program. Being solid on the ground on offense and dependable on defense has worked well for Wisconsin over the more recent seasons, and it could be what keeps them in the Big Ten championship mix. Michigan State and Ohio State are receiving most of the attention right now, and Nebraska has been heralded as the next best threat, but it would be silly to forget Wisconsin the way the defense has been playing.
By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
Few trends have changed college basketball more in recent years than the wave of transfers each season.
Some teams, like Iowa State and Florida, have made an art for of recruiting transfers as key cogs of their programs. Other teams are just looking to fill holes and don’t always have to look too far to fill gaps on the roster.
The 2014-15 season will feature its fair share of impact transfers. Iowa State and Florida are here as usual, but teams like Gonzaga, Ohio State and Miami picked up key players in the in the transfer market this season as well.
Matt Carlino, Marquette (from BYU)
Steve Wojciechowski will be off to a rough start roster-wise at Marquette. Lucky for the first-year coach, a point guard in the transfer market had an uncle who played at Marquette and a mother who is from Milwaukee. Carlino should step in immediately and play point guard for the Golden Eagles after averaging 12.5 points and 4.6 assists per game in three seasons at BYU.
Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State (from UNLV)
The Iowa State transfer trend continues with Dejean-Jones, who is on his third stop after transferring from USC to UNLV to Ames. Dejean-Jones averaged 13.6 points per game in 31 games in his final season with the Runnin’ Rebels. He’s an effective scorer who will have to integrate himself into a lineup including returning point guard Monté Morris and forward Georges Niang.
Josh Gray, LSU (from junior college)
With point guard Anthony Hickey transferring to Oklahoma State, sophomore forwards Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin need someone to get them the ball. Gray may be the answer. Before heading to Odessa (Texas) College, Gray averaged 9.6 points and 3.3 assists as a freshman at Texas Tech. He’ll be more than a facilitator, though, as Johnny Jones expects his point guard to score in a variety of ways.
Anthony Hickey, Oklahoma State (from LSU)
Oklahoma State will need a number of players to fill the gaps left by Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. At least Travis Ford will have a veteran point guard in the mix in Hickey, who was a three-year starter at LSU. Hickey’s scoring output dropped in his final season in Baton Rouge, but he finished second in the SEC with a 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio and has averaged 3.8 assists per game in his career. He averaged nearly three steals per game as a sophomore two years ago.
Jonathan Holton, West Virginia (from junior college)
Holton averaged 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game as a freshman at Rhode Island in 2011-12, but he was dismissed from school due to some legal issues. Holton spent a season at junior college and then a redshirt season at West Virginia, where he’ll be a regular double-double threat.
Kedren Johnson, Memphis (from Vanderbilt)
Memphis is in the rare position where it is short on experienced guards this season. That’s why Josh Pastner had to be overjoyed Johnson, who was suspended last season at Vanderbilt, is eligible to play for the Tigers this season. Johnson averaged a team-best 13.5 points with 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds in his last season with the Commodores.
Trevor Lacey, NC State (from Alabama)
Lacey is the latest addition for an NC State program that’s seen its share of roster turnover under Mark Gottfried. Lacey won’t be asked to fill the scoring void left by T.J. Warren, but he will need to be a complement to emerging sophomore point guard Cat Barber in the backcourt. Lacey is a strong guard who can score around the basket.
Anthony Lee, Ohio State (from Temple)
The 6-9, 230-pound Lee will give Ohio State a key player in a thin frontcourt. He has been one of the nation’s most effective rebounders — both offensively and defensively — over the past few years. Lee also averaged a career-high 13.6 points per game last season.
Alex Murphy, Florida (from Duke)
Florida may have to wait until the second semester to add Murphy to the lineup. When he’s eligible, Murphy will be a stretch-4 and another transfer on a roster that includes Dorian Finney-Smith (Virginia Tech), Jon Horford (Michigan) and Eli Carter (Rutgers). Murphy is the brother of Erik Murphy, who averaged 12.2 points per game in 2012-13.
Rodney Purvis, UConn (from NC State)
All Purvis has to do is help fill the void left by Shabazz Napier in the backcourt for the defending national champions. OK, so maybe it’s not that drastic. Still, he’s a key cog in a talented backcourt that returns Ryan Boatright and adds freshman swingman Daniel Hamilton. Purvis averaged 8.3 points per game on an NCAA Tournament team that featured five double-digit scorers
Katin Reinhardt, USC (from UNLV)
Andy Enfield needed to replenish the roster in a major way in his first season at USC, a year that yielded only two Pac-12 wins. Reinhardt, who sat out last season after his transfer, will be a major part of that. He started 34 games as a freshman at UNLV, averaging 10.1 points and 2.5 assists per game. The 6-5, 205-pound sophomore will be a combo guard in Enfield’s system in Los Angeles.
Angel Rodriguez, Miami (from Kansas State)
Miami cobbled together 17 wins with depleted roster largely because two of its better players — Rodriguez and fellow Big 12 transfer Sheldon McClellan — were sitting out. Now ready to play, the 5-11 Rodriguez will man the point for Miami. In his last stop at Kansas State, Rodriguez averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists per game for a team that won 27 games.
Ricky Tarrant, Alabama (from Tulane)
Tarrant will compete with freshman Justin Coleman for minutes at point guard, where Trevor Releford departs. Tarrant was a second-team All-Conference USA selection in his last season at Tulane in 2012-13. He averaged 15.3 points and 3.4 assists per game in two seasons at Tulane, needing only 66 games to cross the 1,000-point mark.
Byron Wesley, Gonzaga (from USC)
Wesley led USC in scoring last season at 17.8 points per game, but he bolted a program that finished 11–21. With a handful of veterans and transfers, Wesley won’t shoulder as much of the load in Spokane after averaging 13.6 shots per game in Los Angeles.
Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga (from Kentucky)
Wiltjer was the odd man out on Kentucky’s ultra-talented squads laced with NBA Draft lottery talent. After sitting out for a year, Wiltjer has bulked up to become a more formidable presence in the frontcourt. He’s a 6-10 forward with a perimeter game — and a national championship ring.
It may be years before we can fairly pinpoint the most extreme low point of Penn State’s sanction era, but there may be a new leader in the clubhouse. Maryland made the trip Beaver Stadium to face its new Big Ten neighbor to the north, mixed things up with Penn State as the teams took the field, refused to shake hands during the coin flip and then went home celebrating a 20-19 victory. Maybe Penn State is down, now losers of four straight for the first time since 2004, but one thing looked to be clear Saturday afternoon. Maryland is ready to consider Penn State a rival.
“Let the rivalry begin now,” Maryland head coach Randy Edsall said after the game. “Let it begin. There should be a trophy for this game. It’s a bordering state. Let’s have some fun. Let’s make it really competitive.”
This was just the second time Maryland has won a game against Penn State. Penn State now leads the all-time series 35-2-1, with the series dating back to 1917 and now revived with Maryland and Penn State in the same division in the same conference for the first time. With Penn State and Maryland now in the same conference, the tensions should continue to boil in the future, and it begins with recruiting.
After being hired to be Penn State’s new head coach, James Franklin went on a bus tour to meet alums all around the northeast. That tour included a notable drive through Maryland and Washington D.C., where Franklin made it clear to the Penn State faithful Penn State would have a strong presence in recruiting in the region. Franklin was so strong about his intentions he indirectly suggested Maryland should just shut down (same as Rutgers). This, of course, did not sit well with some Maryland fans who caught wind of the statements from Franklin.
Penn State and Maryland have been competing for the same recruits in the same territory for generations, so 2014 and beyond is nothing new. But the stakes just got a little higher, and Maryland went all in on Saturday. Maryland’s captains went out to midfield for the pregame coin flip and just stood there, staring blankly as the Penn State captains extended hands for a pregame handshake. The non-handshake resulted in an unsportsmanlike penalty, and Edsall took no responsibility for the incident. This one was on the players, intent to make a statement before the game started.
Of course, the best way to send a message is by putting more points on the scoreboard. Maryland did just that. Time will tell if Maryland can keep this going once Penn State supposedly gets back to full strength, but perhaps this was the start of a new rivalry for years to come.
“We think that we set the tone for the rivalry going forward,” Maryland tight end P.J. Gallo.
You sure did P.J. Let’s see if Maryland decides to shake hands next.
-By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)
The Oklahoma City Thunder have had lots of bad news lately. It was rough enough losing Kevin Durant to a Jones fracture for up to two months — the reigning MVP is integral to his team’s title chances. But they would’ve had enough left to stay afloat without him, had they not also lost Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Anthony Morrow and now the second half of their dynamic duo, Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook started Thursday night off with his customary, bodacious swag step into the Staples Center, to take on Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers:
Then he got his hand hit near the rim during the second quarter, and left for the locker room through L.A.’s chutes. But not before a little discourse with the locals:
Westbrook sustained a small fracture in the hand, but it is unknown how much time he will miss. As to what he said to the fans, why he said it, what they said back: This is unknown. But the Thunder point guard and L.A. native is a famously fiery personality on the court, a method player who stays frantic and aggressive every instant he’s in the building. His frustration from a sudden injury, when his team was already struggling to tread water, would make the combustible Westbrook an easy target for agitation.
The Western Conference of the 2014-15 season looks to be about as difficult a field as the league’s ever seen. Making the playoffs is no sure thing for any squad — last year, the Phoenix Suns won 50 games and still missed the round of sixteen. If the Thunder don’t get healthy quick, they might find themselves in quite the hole to dig themselves out of. But at least OKC’s got the promise of Westbrook and Durant together at some point this season — it’s hard to think of any two superstars we'd rather see waging a fight up the standings.
— John Wilmes
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for the week, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket.
These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week. These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook. They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!
For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!
(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. Learn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (EARLY ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Patrick Towles, Kentucky vs. Missouri ($6000)
Towles had a huge game last week against Miss State; accounting for over 450 total yards and four total scores. He could post similar numbers this week against Missouri and comes in at a nice price.
1) RB Jon Hilliman, Boston College vs. VA Tech ($4500)
Hilliman scored twice last week and gets to face a Hokies defense that gave up over 350 yards rushing to Miami last week. He could find the end zone again and reach value this week.
2) RB William Stanback, UCF vs. UCONN ($4500)
Stanback had 97 yards and two scores last week versus Temple. He could have a nice game this week against the Huskies. Look for Stanback to reach value this week.
1) WR Deante Gray, TCU vs. West Virginia ($5200)
Gray dropped 165 yards and two scores on Texas Tech last week and could find more success this week against West Virginia. His value really shoots up if Josh Doctson is unable to play this week.
2) WR Mario Alford, West Virginia vs. TCU ($5600)
Alford had 136 yards and a score last week and could see plenty of targets against TCU. This game could be a track meet, with both teams throwing the ball often. Look for Alford to have a solid afternoon.
3) WR Tyler Boyd, Pitt vs. Duke ($5800)
Boyd is having a decent season and his upside is too good to pass on in this game. He could easily have a big week and his price is very appealing. Look for Boyd to show up this week.
1) TE Blake Bell, Oklahoma vs. Iowa State ($2600)
Bell scored in his last game and is worth a look at this price.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Kent Myers, Utah State vs. Hawaii ($4700)
With the top three QB’s on the roster all hurt, Myers will get the start this week against Hawaii. He looks to be a dual threat kid who has some upside at near minimum price.
1) RB Brian Hill, Wyoming vs. Fresno State ($5400)
Hill ran for 128 yards and two scores last week after Shaun Wick left with an injury. Wick is out at least three weeks, so insert Hill into your lineups now!
2) RB Tarean Folston, Notre Dame vs. Navy ($4800)
Floston is averaging 109 yards rushing and a score in the last two games and appears to be the main man in the Irish backfield. He could easily reach value this week and appears to be a nice punt option at the RB position.
3) RB Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn vs. Ole Miss ($4700)
Match up be damned here. I don’t care how good the Ole Miss defense is, getting Artis-Payne for $4700 is too good to pass up. The Auburn ground game is close to unstoppable and Artis-Payne could easily hit the 100-yard mark and add a score.
1) WR Josh Harper, Fresno State vs. Wyoming ($5800)
Harper could have a big night against Wyoming. He appears to be a bit under priced this week and looks like a very nice value play. Look for Harper to find the end zone for the third straight game.
2) WR Dwayne Stanford, Oregon vs. Stanford ($4000)
Stanford has become more involved in the Oregon passing game over the past four contests and could make for a solid punt play this week. He is an excellent red-zone option because of his size.
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There may be a great debate about who the greatest quarterback is of this generation, but there’s no debate which quarterbacks belong in the conversation. It starts and ends with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who both have earned a place among the greatest of all time.
Now, this Sunday, they will meet again for the 16th time in their illustrious careers. Here's a quick statistical look back at their gridiron battles.
Infographic by Barrett Self, barrettself.com
Jan. 21, 2007: Colts 38, Patriots 34, (AFC championship game)
Jan. 18, 2004: Patriots 24, Colts 14, (AFC championship game)
Nov. 15, 2009 – Colts 35, Patriots 34
Nov. 24, 2013: Patriots 34, Broncos 31, overtime
Nov. 4, 2007 – Patriots 24, Colts 20
For the first time during his tenure at Illinois, John Groce has a roster loaded with familiar faces. Of the 13 players making up this year’s Illini, 11 have been a part of Groce’s system for at least one year, a stark contrast to Year 1, when everyone was getting to know the new coach and his staff, and last year, when nine newcomers made up the majority of the roster.
Illinois’ third-year coach recognized a clear difference in the flow of practice after the team’s first workout of the eight-week summer schedule.
“We were able to cover more things in the hour I had them on the first day than at any time last summer because guys just knew stuff right away,” Groce says. “They’ve heard this stuff, in some cases for two years. That was really encouraging.”
The hope in Champaign is that the familiarity breeds victories. After a second-round exit in the NIT, the expectation is to return to the NCAA Tournament, where Illinois reached the Round of 32 in Groce’s first season.
Top scorer Rayvonte Rice returns to anchor the backcourt, and he’ll be aided by transfers Ahmad Starks (Oregon State) and Aaron Cosby (Seton Hall) to add some offensive balance for a team that finished 11th in the Big Ten in scoring (64.2 ppg).
“Obviously, we’ve got to improve our offensive efficiency,” Groce says. “Our defense was plenty good enough last year to win against anybody.”
The Illinois edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
In Nnanna Egwu, Illinois has a defensive stopper and rim protector who finished second in the Big Ten last year with 2.1 blocked shots per game. The key for the senior will be to stay out of foul trouble and remain on the court, because frontcourt depth took a hit when Western Michigan transfer Darius Paul was suspended for the season after violating team rules.
Freshman Leron Black, Mr. Basketball in Tennessee, figures to earn regular minutes in the playing rotation. The hard-nosed 6-7 forward brings a level of toughness that Illinois has lacked. “Guys really hate going against him in practice,” Groce says.
Sophomore Malcolm Hill, who came along in the second half of last season, adds versatility. The 6-6 Hill started the final 12 games of his freshman season as the power forward and connected on nine of his last 15 3-pointers.
Maverick Morgan and Austin Colbert were seldom used as freshmen last season, and one or both will have to emerge to provide added depth. Freshman Michael Finke is a prolific outside shooter, and at just a shade under 6-10, he could see time as the stretch-4.
Illinois Fighting Illini Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-15, 7-11 Big Ten
Last NCAA Tournament: 2013
Coach: John Groce (43-28 at Illinois, 15-21 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Seventh
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 64
In his first season at Illinois after transferring from Drake, Rice proved he could score in the Big Ten. His 15.9-point average was eighth in the league. The 6-4 slasher did that while dealing with double teams as driving lanes closed because of Illinois’ lack of outside shooting.
Starks, the all-time leader in 3-pointers made at Oregon State, and Cosby, a 38.8 percent 3-point shooter at Seton Hall, will help free up Rice.
Kendrick Nunn, a member of the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team, enters the season carrying momentum from a strong finish. The 6-3 guard started the last 12 games of his rookie season and averaged 10.3 points during that stretch. Jaylon Tate, who had a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman, will add depth at the point guard position.
Good thing the Illinois backcourt has depth. The Illini lost Tracy Abrams for the season with a torn ACL. Abrams was expected to contribute at the point after averaging 10.7 points per game last season.
The Big Ten, which was as strong the last two years as it’s been in some time, will ease up a bit this season, and that provides a chance for Illinois to make a move. With a good mix of drivers and shooters, the offense is expected to rebound from its anemic output. If the defense, which ranked in the top 25 in the country last season allowing 62.2 points, can maintain its punch, the Illini can climb the conference standings. For the first time in Groce’s tenure, the expectations are elevated, and how this group of players handles that pressure will go a long way in determining whether they meet the challenge.
Leron Black is a consensus top-50 recruit whose non-stop motor and knack for rebounding should earn him playing time. Michael Finke is a local kid who has grown two inches since committing to Illinois early during his junior season in high school. A versatile offensive player, Finke will need for his defense to catch up.
March Madness was a one-and-done experience as Tennessee defeated Iowa 78–65 in the “play-in” game in Dayton. The season-ending collapse left Hawkeye fans wondering what went wrong with a team that just a month earlier had shown so much promise.
Making matters much worse was the personal crisis facing Iowa coach Fran McCaffery at the time. His 14-year old son, Patrick, had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor on his thyroid in the days leading up to Iowa’s NCAA Tournament game.
Patrick is now well on his way to recovery, his latest tests showing no signs of cancer.
As for his father’s team, it’s more of a mystery heading into this season. Four of the five starters return from last season, including All-Big Ten forward Aaron White. But the one missing piece is All-Big Ten guard Roy Devyn Marble, who led Iowa in scoring last season and was clearly the go-to player for a team that struggled to shoot from the perimeter.
The Iowa edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
White is the first Hawkeye to have at least 1,300 points, 650 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 assists by his junior season. He is still considered a suspect shooter but hopes to change that after spending the offseason working on his medium-range jump shot.
Joining White on the frontline is 7-1 junior center Adam Woodbury, who has started all 71 games in his college career. Woodbury hasn’t been much of an offensive threat, though, scoring in double figures only 10 times in two years. But he had his best performance in the final game of the season, scoring a career-high 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds in the loss to Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament.
Junior Jarrod Uthoff is expected to start at small forward, giving Iowa another 6-9 presence on the frontline. Throw 6-10 Gabe Olaseni and 6-9 freshman Dominique Uhl into the mix and the Hawkeyes are well-equipped with size and experience.
Iowa Hawkeyes Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-13, 9-9 Big Ten
Postseason: NCAA First Four
Consecutive NCAA Tournaments: 1
Coach: Fran McCaffery (74-63 at Iowa, 30-42 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Sixth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
This season will mark the first time that McCaffery hasn’t had Marble in his backcourt. They spent the last four seasons helping to rebuild the Iowa program, which had fallen on hard times when they both arrived in 2010.
Marble gave McCaffery a reliable scorer who at 6-6 could play both guard positions. Iowa doesn’t have that dimension this season. Junior Mike Gesell returns as the starting point guard, and he also has played shooting guard. But Gesell stands only 6-1 and has struggled to make perimeter shots and to finish at the basket. Junior college import Trey Dickerson will add some athleticism to the position.
Senior Josh Oglesby is considered the favorite to replace Marble at shooting guard. Oglesby can catch fire from 3-point range, but he lacks Marble’s size and versatility.
Sophomore sharpshooter Peter Jok has Marble’s size at 6-6, but Jok also has some personal issues holding him back. He pleaded guilty to OWI after being arrested on his moped in late April. Less than two months later, Jok was stopped again on his moped and cited for driving with a suspended license, prompting McCaffery to suspend him indefinitely.
Junior point guard Anthony Clemmons returns after a rocky sophomore season in which he fell out of the rotation and played sparingly down the stretch. Clemmons blamed himself and is determined to regain his form as a freshman, when he started 13 games.
The collapse at the end of last season marks the only time under McCaffery in which Iowa hasn’t progressed as a team. Iowa did end its NCAA Tournament drought last season, but now the challenge is to keep climbing without Marble leading the way. The Hawkeyes have a proven commodity in the post in White and quality depth along the front line. They have quality pieces on the perimeter but lack consistent outside shooting. Anything less than another NCAA Tournament bid would be considered a disappointment.
Fran McCaffery had several near-misses in this class, the biggest setback coming when point guard Tyler Ulis signed with Kentucky over Iowa last November. McCaffery rebounded by landing point guard Trey Dickerson, who averaged nearly 20 points per game as a freshman in junior college. Brady Ellingson enters college with a reputation for being a great 3-point shooter. Dominique Uhl will bring athleticism to the front line.
That may come as a surprise for a league hasn’t produced a national champion since Michigan State in 2000.
Yet, the Big Ten is the only conference to send a team to the Final Four in each of the last three seasons and has done so with three different teams — Wisconsin in 2014, Michigan in 2013 and Ohio State in 2012.
The league has also produced its share of regular season excitement with as many compelling teams as any league. Consider: Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State remain as consistent as ever, Michigan has become a national power, Indiana enjoyed one season as a No. 1 team for much of the year, and Iowa and Nebraska have risen their levels of play.
The question for 2014-15 is how long it continue.
Wisconsin returns from the Final Four with nearly its entire roster intact. Other mainstays at the top of the Big Ten heap have lost major cogs — Michigan State enters the season without Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling, Michigan without Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, Ohio State without Aaron Craft and Iowa without Roy Devyn Marble.
Those are major losses for a league that has relied on upperclassmen for the most of the last four years.
Does that mean the league as a whole will take a step back in 2014-15 while Wisconsin runs away with the title? Will the Wolverines, Spartans and Buckeyes reload? Will the Cornhuskers take the next step?
In any event, the depth in the Big Ten is in question for the first time in several years.
Previews of every Big Ten team and more are available in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview.
Big Ten 2014-15 Preseason Picks
1. Wisconsin (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA runner up
Four returning starters from a Final Four team has ignited intriguing talk of a national championship run.
2. Nebraska (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
With Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields, the Huskers are the trendy pick to do big things.
3. Michigan State (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Replacing Gary Harris and Adreian Payne won’t be easy, but Tom Izzo built depth while battling injuries last season.
4. Ohio State (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
Life without Aaron Craft (or LaQuinton Ross) will be a challenge for a team that was offensively challenged last season.
5. Michigan (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
Give John Beilein three perimeter guys like Derrick Walton Jr., Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin and he’ll do the rest.
6. Iowa (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 32
Hawkeyes’ fans will expect more than merely a trip to the NCAA Tournament from a veteran team led by a talented senior like Aaron White.
7. Illinois (team preview)
Postseason projection: NCAA round of 64
John Groce has put together a nice blend of veterans, youth and transfers but the Illini remain a big man away from the Top 25.
Postseason projection: NIT
Tom Crean has addressed his team’s shooting issues, but now the worry is rebounding and interior defense.
Postseason projection: NIT
Richard Pitino won the NIT during his first season, but could not close down the recruiting border.
Postseason projection: NIT
Embattled Mark Turgeon adds a top-10 recruiting class, but watched five players transfer out of his program. Hot Seat alert.
11 Penn State
Postseason projection: NIT
The Nittany Lions remain a team nobody wants to play because they defend and D.J. Newbill is always capable of a 20-point night.
If A.J. Hammons improves from good to great, the Boilermakers could move to the middle of the pack.
Lack of depth remains the leading issue as Chris Collins aims for progress in his second season.
It won’t be any easier for the Scarlet Knights here than it was in the Big East.
2014-15 Pac-12 Superlatives
Player of the Year: Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
Dekker bulked up during the offseason and, oddly enough, grew from 6-7 to 6-9 since the end of last season. He already was Wisconsin’s top NBA prospect, and he'll make a run an All-America honors. He returned to add an outside shot to his game and for a run at a national title.
Best Defensive Player: Shannon Scott, Ohio State
Scott has major shoes to fill stepping in for point guard and defensive stopper Aaron Craft. His per 40 minute numbers were close to Craft’s, but carrying that over to a full-time role is easier said than done.
Most Underrated Player: Caris LeVert, Michigan
LeVert won’t be underrated for long. A secondary player for the Wolverines last season will be the focal point for this Michigan team. After averaging 12.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 rebounds, he’s suited to being a team leader for a young, rebuilding squad.
Newcomer of the Year: Anthony Lee, Ohio State
Ohio State was a mediocre rebounding team last season. Lee will be a major boost in that area after averaging an American Athletic Conference-best 8.6 boards per game at Temple last season.
Top Coach: Tom Izzo, Michigan State (full rankings of Big Ten coaches)
First-Team All-Big Ten
G Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
G Caris LeVert, Michigan
G/F Terran Petteway, Nebraska
F Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
C Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Second-Team All-Big Ten
G D.J. Newbill, Penn State
G Rayvonte Rice, Illinois
G/F Branden Dawson, Michigan State
F Aaron White, Iowa
C A.J. Hammons, Purdue
Third-Team All-Big Ten
G Derrick Walton, Michigan
G Shavon Shields, Nebraska
G Andre Hollins, Minnesota
G/F Dez Wells, Maryland
F Anthony Lee, Ohio State
Heat Nation is no longer where LeBron James lives. And if you were an alien who watched the team’s latest promotional video, you’d think he never did. The short film, below, features a voice-over of Gill Scott-Heron grandeur and a sweeping, folksy frame of basketball love in Southern Florida. It’s got champagne, parades, and pride — but no sign of the man most responsible for bringing the most of all those things to Dade County:
There are more shots of Ronny Seikaly, Alonzo Mourning, Shaq, Danny Granger and Shabazz Napier in this clip than there are of the man who won two MVP trophies (and two Finals MVPs) as the top Heatle (zero, in case you're counting).
There’s a strange calm that accompanies the omission, though. Inviting the King’s throne into your city’s borders means bringing the non-stop nationwide hullabaloo that follows him, too. Things in Miami are much quieter, calmer, and less loaded with crushing expectations than they have been in recent years.
As Dwyane Wade told Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick at the beginning of the preseason, “Last year wasn't fun. I mean, there was no stretch of it (that was) fun. That whole season, to me, it's amazing we made it to the Finals. It's just honest. Just this year, coming in, I can see, even in the coaches, there's just a different renewed focus and energy. No one knows what it's going to lead to. No one knows if that's going to lead to a Finals win or Finals loss or not the Finals at all. But right now it's good for everyone to come in every day and want to be here."
LeBron brought a previously unheard-of level of attention to roundball in Miami. Now that he’s left and taken his championship-or-bust circus with him, we’ll find out whether the team’s fanbase actually loves the game or not. As claustrophobic as the sport’s biggest name can make things feel — and as free and personalized as the team might feel to its city now—mediocrity and mere playoff berths might not be to Miami’s liking.
— John Wilmes
We’ve hit Week 10 of the 2014 college football season and the best has yet to come for the American Athletic Conference.
Though East Carolina sits atop the conference with a 6-1 record and the No. 21 ranking in the latest AP Top 25, there are several teams making moves and positioning themselves for a potential title run in the coming weeks.
Central Florida undoubtedly possesses the top defense in The American, ranking 17th in the country against the run (110.9), 16th in opponent passer rating (107.0), and 14th in scoring defense (19.1 points per game). If coach George O’Leary can continue to mold Justin Holman into becoming a more consistent and less turnover prone quarterback, the Knights stand as a serious threat to ECU.
Houston has won two games in a row for the first time since October of 2013 and should be 8-3 (6-1) by their regular season finale with Cincinnati, as its next four opponents have a combined 6-23 record.
Even with the loss to Houston weeks ago, SB Nation ranks Memphis as the third-best team in the AAC (No. 9 in the Group of Five) in its latest Underdogs Poll. There’s still an opportunity for the Tigers to win out and be crowned conference champions, but without ECU or UCF on the schedule, will need a little help from their friends.
Cincinnati hasn’t come close to being the team we had expected it to be in August, but even with its historically poor start to the season, it might have the best chance out of any contender to rise from the ashes and claim its fifth conference title in seven years.
Amid a five-way battle for the final first-place standing, here are the five most critical games remaining on the American Athletic Conference slate.
5. Houston at Cincinnati
When and where: Saturday, Dec. 6 (TBD)
We’re watching because… This game could potentially crown the AAC champion. If Houston can get through November unscathed (which is anticipated, considering its four games are against opponents with a combined 6-23 record), then it will be 8-3 (6-2) riding a six-game winning streak. Cincinnati is hit-or-miss, but if it gets hot and beats both ECU and Temple, then this matchup could end up being must-see football.
Prediction: Cincinnati wins
4. East Carolina at Temple
When and where: Saturday, Nov. 1, 12 p.m. ET (ESPNews)
We’re watching because… ECU hasn’t been playing particularly well as of late, and Temple is back home after spending three of its last four games on the road. The Pirates are still ranked in the AP Poll after three straight shaky performances against inferior competition, but star quarterback Shane Carden has had to pick up the slack from his team’s massive amount of penalties (28 for 306 yards) and the inconsistency from the secondary. Temple has had its own struggles lately, but if P.J. Walker and the Owls offense can avoid turnovers and make a few big plays down the field, ECU will be on upset alert in a hurry.
Prediction: ECU wins
3. Temple at Penn State
When and where: Saturday, Nov. 15 (TBD)
We’re watching because… It’s a mid-November in-state non-conference game between two schools that are separated by roughly 100 miles. Both teams benefited Temple from a soft first quarter schedule and have come down to Earth; Temple has lost two in a row after starting 4-1 and Penn State is losers of three straight after its 4-0 run to open the season. This one might not have any affect on the AAC title race, but it should be a fun one to watch—and the Owls might need a win here to ensure bowl eligibility.
Prediction: Penn State wins
2. Central Florida at East Carolina
When and where: Thursday, Dec. 4, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
We’re watching because… UCF could be vying for back-to-back AAC titles. Since losing their first two games of the season, the Knights are 5-0 and are holding opponents to 14.0 points per game. With the likelihood of winning its next four games (UConn, Tulsa, SMU, and USF), the matchup with ECU could determine whether Central Florida receives a News Year’s Six Bowl invitation or if it plays in the Bitcoin Bowl—and the Knights’ back seven against the Shane Carden/
Justin Hardy duo is going to be one heck of a grind.
Prediction: ECU wins
1. East Carolina at Cincinnati
When and where: Thursday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
We’re watching because… This is the only game East Carolina is projected to lose, according to ESPN FPI Rankings. The Pirates, who have a 12.8 percent chance of winning out and 46.3 percent chance of taking The American, are expected to fall at Paul Brown Stadium with a 49.4 percent chance of beating Cincinnati. This was the game that was circled on everyone’s calendars during the preseason when the Bearcats were dubbed the favorites to win the conference, and though the roles are now reversed, the implications remain the same. If Gunner Kiel can stay upright and retain his Week 1 form, then this has all the makings of a break-the-scoreboard type of outcome—and who wouldn’t want to see that on a Thursday night?
Prediction: Cincinnati wins
Written by Tyler Waddell of AACFootballFever.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler_Waddell and @AAC_FB_Fever
Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker is a happy man. New recipient of a four-year, $48 million contract extension, he was also his team’s hero in their first game of the 2014-15 NBA season. Walker shot just 9-for-26 on the night, but two of those nine counted for a little something extra. First, Walker hit this buzzer-beating three to send the game to overtime, after the Hornets came back from more than 20 points down against the Milwaukee Bucks:
Then, he hit this chilly jumper to seal the 108-106 victory in the extra period:
Looks like Hornets owner Michael Jordan’s got plenty to smile about this morning. His packed arena caught quite the dramatic, cathartic show on the first night of the team’s triumphant return to their beloved 90’s moniker. Buzz City is back.
Meanwhile, Michael’s old team and coach squared off in Manhattan, as the Chicago Bulls stormed into Madison Square Garden for a 104-80 takedown of the New York Knicks. It was not a good start on the court for the team, now ran by zen master Phil Jackson. New York looked to be at a lack of willpower defensively, and lost in the pages of Jackson’s intricate triangle offense playbook, as implemented by rookie coach Derek Fisher.
It was, conversely, a smooth and impressive beginning for the new-look Bulls. A returned Derrick Rose didn’t need to do much as the Bulls’ second unit, led by Taj Gibson’s 22 points and eight rebounds, blew the game wide open by halftime. From there it was an exhibition of sorts, with even the annals of Chicago’s roster getting their chance for a bright Big Apple moment in garbage time.
Next for the Bulls is enemy number one, and the premiere NBA game of the week, as LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers battleship visit the United Center in Chicago for a Halloween special this Friday night.
— John Wilmes
They say that playing with Team USA is a springboard, often providing the confidence and moxie needed to launch mere NBA stars into the rare air of MVP status. And while the new season is just one night old, New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis (who’s also a new FIBA gold medalist after a dominating performance in the World Cup) looks to be proving this theory as well as anyone.
Last night, Davis collected a monstrous 26 points, 17 rebounds, nine blocks and three steals. Similar stats haven’t been seen in the NBA, from anyone, since the heyday of Hakeem Olajuwon. The court is a smaller place for the gigantic, nimble, hyper-aware Davis than it is for the rest of the humans he competes with. Watch him destroy the novice Orlando Magic in service of a 101-84 Pelicans victory:
New Pelicans front court partner Omer Asik, acquired in a trade with the Houston Rockets, chipped in 14 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks — making for a combined 40, 34 and 14 from him and Davis. New Orleans’ two-headed dragon of a front line and diverse, speedy backcourt make them a scary dark horse contender in the thorny Western Conference.
Parsons' Dallas Debut
The San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks renewed their natural rivalry. Sporting new additions Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler, the Mavs looked to prove themselves worthy of the reigning league champions. They came close enough for a fright, but ultimately handed fate into Parsons’ hands, who missed an open three-pointer as the game expired, and Dallas fell 101-100.
This coming shortly after Dirk Nowitzki joked about Parsons’ exorbitant three-year, $46 million dollar deal, a contract only possible because of the huge pay cut the aging German sensation took. “I told him every dinner on the road this year is on him because it's my money anyway,” Nowitzki joshed, when about the discrepancy between his and Parsons’ pay rate. Nowitzki is on a friendly, Mavs-lifer budget, making just $25 million over the next three seasons despite remaining one of the best scorers in the game.
Aside from Parsons’ game-ending miss, his debut Mavericks performance was pitiful — he scored just five points, on 2-of-10 shooting. It’s far too early to judge the signing of Parsons now, but similar results in future showings could quickly make him his fanbase’s new whipping post.
— John Wilmes
So long, Donald Sterling. The exiled, former Los Angeles Clippers owner has left his seat open as basketball’s worst holder of a franchise. And the Sacramento Kings’ Vivek Ranadive seems eager to claim Sterling’s old title.
Ranadive, who purchased the Kings in the spring of 2013, has quickly developed a reputation as a meddlesome owner. Recent leaks, via Grantland’s Zach Lowe, suggest he has tried to influence his team’s on-court strategy. It’s almost never a good thing when an owner tries to double down as a coach, and it’s especially bad when he wants the implementation of a zany novelty like cherry-picking. According to Lowe, “Ranadive has pitched the idea to the team’s brain trust of playing 4-on-5 defense and leaving one player to cherry-pick, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.”
It doesn’t take a roundball genius to see the flaws in this strategy. NBA teams—even the bad ones—are all capable of exploiting a literally undermanned defense, on virtually every possession. It takes only a cursory understanding of ball movement to consistently find the unaccounted-for man. And while the 2014-15 Kings don’t have a lot of promise defensively, they would end up right in the league’s basement if they went this route with any regularity.
Previously, a Grantland mini-documentary about the Kings’ war room during this past June’s NBA Draft showed Ranadive as a man with questionable ideas. In the clip below, Ranadive urges his front office to draft Nik Stauskas at No. 8 overall, not point guard Elfrid Payton. The Kings went Ranadive’s way, drafting an iffy shooting prospect for the second straight summer (after picking Ben McLemore in 2013) and passing on Payton, a passing visionary who would fit right into what’s perhaps Sacramento’s biggest hole.
As you can see, Ranadive has a way of getting what he wants. With billionaire entrepreneurs, that tends to be the case. Kings fans just better be hoping that Vivek learns the lessons of overzealous ownership fast, and enables shrewder basketball minds to do their work.
— John Wilmes
Tampa, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made their second trade of the day during Tuesday's deadline by sending linebacker Jonathan Casillas to the New England Patriots for an undisclosed swap of 2015 draft choices.
According to ESPN.com, the Patriots will give the Buccaneers their fifth-round pick in exchange for Tampa Bay's sixth rounder and Casillas, a five-year veteran who started the first three games of this season before being displaced by Danny Lansanah.
Tampa Bay also traded another defensive player on Tuesday, shipping safety and 2012 first-round pick Mark Barron to St. Louis for reported fourth and sixth- round selections in 2015.
As for the Patriots, they acquired their second linebacker through a trade in less than a week. The AFC East leaders obtained Akeem Ayers from Tennessee last Wednesday in another exchange of 2015 draft picks.
Casillas was in his second season with Tampa Bay after a three-year stint with New Orleans. The 27-year-old has recorded 138 tackles and three sacks while starting 15 out of 55 career games.
Atlanta, GA (SportsNetwork.com) - Twelve-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey has decided to call an end to an illustrious 15-year playing career, his agent announced Tuesday.
Jack Reale, Bailey's longtime representative, said his client has received offers from teams following his release from the New Orleans Saints in August but has instead chosen to explore other options.
"At this time, Champ has decided not to accept on-field opportunities and pursue another career path," Reale told ESPN.com. "To play the end of this season and maybe next season, given his opportunities, he could have done that. But he decided it was best to move on to those other areas. I think everybody on his team agreed that was a good approach."
Bailey was one of the league's most dominant defensive players of the 2000s, earning All-Pro honors for five consecutive seasons from 2003-07 and leading the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2006. His 12 Pro Bowl selections is tied with Hall of Famer Ken Houston for the most in NFL history by a defensive back.
The seventh overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft by Washington, Bailey played five seasons with the Redskins before being sent to Denver in a blockbuster 2004 trade for running back Clinton Portis.
Bailey spent the next 10 seasons with the Broncos and finished his career among the franchise's all-time leaders in interceptions (34) and passes defensed (102). He was released by Denver shortly after Super Bowl XLVIII following an injury-plagued 2013 campaign.
"Congratulations to 12-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey on an outstanding career," the Broncos tweeted Tuesday.
The 36-year-old had signed with the Saints in April but was released during final cuts.
Over 215 career regular season games with Denver and Washington, Bailey amassed 52 interceptions -- four of which were returned for touchdowns — and 235 pass breakups.
Irving, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett did not reveal any details regarding Tony Romo's injury in Tuesday's press conference, but he did confirm linebacker Justin Durant has a torn biceps.
Garrett hesitated to rule out Durant for the rest of the season, but said "it's a serious injury" and the team will make a decision based on "how much time is left in the season and what the options are."
Durant suffered the injury during the second half of Monday's 20-17 overtime loss to the Redskins. The weakside linebacker has emerged as a solid contributor to an already depleted defense and leads the team in tackles (49) despite missing two games.
The Cowboys are already without star linebacker Sean Lee and will likely have to find a replacement for Durant given the nature of the injury.
Romo, meanwhile, suffered what the team called a back contusion on Monday and there was no additional information at the time of Garrett's presser.
"We did X-rays at the stadium (on Monday) and that allowed us to say he could go back in (Monday's game)," Garrett said. "We are doing additional scans to make sure if there's anything else going on."
Romo exited early in the third quarter after taking a knee to his surgically repaired back. He returned for the final possession of regulation and overtime but was clearly limited in his abilities.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak is not interested in celebrating any checkpoints or milestones in his rebuilding of the program. The Utes clearly are making progress as Krystkowiak enters his fourth season, but he’s not declaring the project ahead of schedule.
“We’re in the middle of the process, showing steady improvement,” Krystkowiak says.
That’s his only gauge of where the Utes are, having gone from 3–15 in Pac-12 play in his first season to 5–13 and then 9–9 (with a bunch of close losses) last year. The growth was sufficient for the school to award Krystkowiak a new five-year contract, and his recruiting success suggests that the upward trend will continue in 2014-15 and beyond.
The Utah edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
The best illustration of how far the Utes have come may be reflected in junior forward Jordan Loveridge’s role this season. After averaging 36.3 minutes in Pac-12 games last season, Loveridge will have much more help up front, which means he’s unlikely to play nearly as many minutes.
Much is expected from Kyle Kuzma, who should create matchup issues. Another freshman, Brekkott Chapman, also is multidimensional, and junior college transfer Chris Reyes also should help.
Loveridge led the Utes with 7.0 rebounds per game, and Krystkowiak is seeking a better effort on the boards from his entire team. In conference games, the Utes ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in defensive rebounding, grabbing only 68.4 percent of their opponents’ misses. That deficiency hurt them at the end of some tight games, but it could fixed by the Utes having bigger players at every position in 2014-15.
During a summer workout, Krystkowiak was thrilled to look at one end of the court and see six quality big men doing drills, a sign that Utah would have much more depth up front.
Dallin Bachynski and Jeremy Olsen are steady, solid players who complement one another at center. Olsen joined Loveridge on the Pac-12 all-star team, coached by Krystkowiak, that toured China. The Utes continued to upgrade their athletic ability by signing Austrian 7-footer Jakob Poeltl.
When he arrived at Utah, Krystkowiak’s recruiting was designed mainly to fill the roster. His staff now can be much more selective in targeting players, and the results are impressive. The Utes will be able to put different lineups on the court and take advantage of certain matchups.
Utah Utes Facts & Figures
Last season: 21-12, 9-9 Pac-12
Last NCAA Tournament: 2009
Coach: Larry Krystkowiak (42-55 at Utah, 17-36 Pac-12)
Pac-12 Projection: Fifth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
Delon Wright was a great discovery for Utah as a junior college transfer, and his decision to stay in school for his senior season rather than enter the NBA was a big boost to the Utes. Wright took over at point guard and finished second in the Pac-12 in steals (2.5 spg), third in field-goal shooting (.561) and fourth in assists (5.3 apg), while leading the Utes in scoring (15.5 ppg) and ranking second in rebounding (6.8 rpg).
Wright and his teammates must perform better in the clutch. Dakarai Tucker took a pass from Loveridge and hit a clinching 3-pointer against Washington in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament, but strong finishes were rare for the Utes. They had fewer turnovers than their opponents, but the Utes’ mistakes seem to come at the worst times.
Some combination of Brandon Taylor, Kenneth Ogbe and Tucker will fill the other backcourt roles, while freshman Isaiah Wright also may provide some relief for Delon Wright, who averaged 36.4 minutes per game.
Utah’s 21–12 overall record in 2013-14 was deceiving, and so were some of their statistics, because of a very weak non-conference schedule that included only one road game. The level of competition will be upgraded considerably, with a home game vs. Wichita State, plus matchups against Kansas (in Kansas City) and UNLV on a “neutral court” in Las Vegas.
Krystkowiak hopes that those games will serve as good preparation for Pac-12 play, and that the experience of having competed in so many close battles last year will translate to greater success in pressure situations.
Too many times in 2013-14, the Utes came down the stretch “and were kind of looking over our shoulder, wondering if it’s going to happen again,” Krystkowiak says.
Judging strictly by conference play, the Utes statistically performed better than a .500 team in the Pac-12. With some better finishes, the Utes should be able to continue their climb in the Pac-12 and contend for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Freshman forwards Kyle Kuzma and Brekkott Chapman bring versatility to the frontcourt. Kuzma can execute low-post moves, handle the ball and rebound at both ends of the court. Forward Chris Reyes, a junior college transfer who started his college career at Saint Mary’s, should help with his rebounding ability. Austrian center Jakob Poeltl is a skilled 7-footer with good fundamentals.