Articles By Athlon Sports
On NBA Media Day, everybody gets to be number one. All the ideals of the upcoming season are fresh, unspoiled by the slog of reality. Players spout off about MVP candidacy, their new-and-improved shooting form and how much they love all of their teammates — soon-to-be champions, all of them.
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal was more than bursting with such optimistic energy in D.C. on Monday. The 21-year-old said he and point guard John Wall — a first-time All-Star last season — are “definitely the best backcourt in the league.”
While it’s an encouraging sign for Cavs chemistry to see Waiters referring to frenemy Irving with a nickname, his defense also begat a war of words. When poked for a rebuke, Wall slighted Waiters. “They haven’t seen a playoff game yet, so when they make one they can start talking. But if you’re going to be the best backcourt, you have to start,” Wall said after practice Tuesday, twisting the knife in Waiters’ wound over often being pushed into a sixth man role. “This is the year he’s probably starting, so let’s see who’s got the best backcourt. You’ve got to be a starting backcourt to be the best backcourt.”
Cleveland and Washington last regularly exchanged tempers when LeBron James was a Cavalier for the first time. Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison were thorns in the King’s side for multiple postseasons of that era. While a returned, wiser James may now be beyond speaking ill of other teams, it seems a younger generation is more than happy to renew the flames of rivalry.
— John Wilmes
Derek Jeter was the perfect player at the perfect time. Jeter emerged as the Yankee captain at the end of the Steroid Era and perfectly played the role of the “Face of Baseball” ever since.
Jeter played the game “the right way” for 20 seasons, running out ground balls, diving into stands for foul pop-ups, hitting clutch homers, and being an outstanding gentleman of the game, never unruly or ungracious, always polite and obliging. Jeter’s character only enhanced his legend on the field, creating the aura of “The Captain” even when he was reluctant to play the role we all wanted him to. He was always, simply, Derek Jeter.
Thanks to the advance of the digital age, social networks, and regional sports networks, the legend of Jeter was able to flourish for all the right reasons. Fans of the game were looking for a player who could be a white knight on and off the field, who could distance himself from scandal and the Steroid Era. What they got was Derek Jeter.
Now, a new era of baseball is here. New commissioner Rob Manfred will take the helm without The Captain to be the transcendent star who helped keep the game’s national identity intact. What Manfred does have is a stable of young talent across the league that can attempt to do what Jeter did for the next generation of baseball.
Here are the top choices for the Jeter’s replacements as “Faces of Baseball.”
If Ruthian home runs are your thing, Giancarlo has you covered in South Beach. His home runs don’t just leave the ball park, they fly on a Top Gun fighter jet. If Paul Bunyan were a baseball player, he’d have Giancarlo’s two-handed, effortless chop-swing that makes the ball sound like it was shot from a circus cannon.
Stanton lead the National League in long balls (37), total bases (299) and slugging percentage (.555) this season, all accomplished before he got hit in the face with a fastball and was forced to sit out the final few weeks of the year.
In 2014, Stanton was in the top five in all of baseball in OPS (.995), walks (94), and on-base percentage (.394), and in the top ten in RBIs (105).
The California native is just 24 years old and already has 154 homers in his five-year career, which puts him on pace for approximately 340 deep balls after his age 30 season — all while playing in the Grand Canyon of ball parks, Marlins Park.
Stanton will be just 26 years old when his contract expires in 2016. Look for the young slugger to get a major payday in a couple years if an extension with the Marlins can’t be reached.
Imagine putting that swing in the arena of Yankee Stadium. Look out.
What can’t Cutch do? The 2013 NL MVP has been the biggest reason the Pirates have been resurrected after 20 losing seasons and have made it to the postseason the past two years.
While McCutchen might be most recognized for his dreads spilling out from under his Pirates cap, his all-around game is nothing to overlook. Besides his MVP award last year, McCutchen is a four-time All-Star, a two-time Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove center fielder. Some of his numbers this year are better than his MVP season!
In 2014, he lead all of baseball in on-base percentage (.410), and was top ten in slugging percentage (.542). McCutchen led the National League in OPS (.952) and OPS+ (168). Adding to those stats, McCutchen hit .314 with 38 doubles, 25 home runs, and 83 RBIs.
McCutchen has all of the qualities that a manager could want from his team leader. Cutch isn't afraid to lay out to make a catch and save a run, or run full-steam into a wall to rob extra bases from a hitter, all for the sake of the team. Cutch will hit a homer in one inning, steal second in another with his lightning speed, and then smack one of his patented doubles in the gap to cap it off.
Andrew McCutchen is the complete weapon, and at just 27 years old, ready to make some more noise in The ‘Burgh for seasons to come.
At just age 27, San Francisco Giants catcher/first basemen Buster Posey has already amassed one heck of an awards mantle, all while looking like he just graduated from high school.
The 2010 Rookie of the Year already has two World Series rings, the 2012 NL MVP award, two All-Star game appearances, and a Silver Slugger Award to put on his resume. Posey is the face of one of the most successful North American sports franchises of the past decade in the Giants.
After a “sub-par” 2013, Posey rebounded in 2014 with a slash-line of .311/.364/.490, an OPS of .854 to go along with 22 home runs, 28 doubles, and 89 RBIs. Catchers don't put up those kinds of numbers, even “offensive” catchers.
If the Giants make another deep run into October in 2014, look for Posey to be the first on the field holding the Commissioner’s Trophy, and on your next box of Wheaties.
Rizzo is the dark horse of the group. The Chicago Cubs first basemen has shown glimpses of what he could become, especially if he gets any protection in the lineup with the organization’s youth movement (Side note: Cubs’ top prospect Kris Bryant very well could be on this list next season).
The days of the Cubs signing and flipping talent for trade deadline deals are over, and the time for the team to take steps towards winning is now. That winning starts with the cornerstone of the organization, 25 year old first basemen Anthony Rizzo.
2014 was Rizzo’s second full season in The Show, and he was lights out for a last-place team. The lefty was in the top five of the National League in on-base percentage (.386), slugging percentage (.527), and OPS (.913). On top of those numbers, Rizzo hit .288 with 32 homers, and 28 doubles, and earned himself his first All-Star selection.
To add to the on-field accolades, Rizzo is a cancer survivor who dedicates so much of his off-time visiting sick children in Chicago hospitals, often times showing up unannounced.
If the Cubs plan unfolds like they hope, Rizzo will be the foundation of NL Central Division and pennant-winning teams for years to come. Any guy that can win with the Cubs is going to garner some national attention.
This season the Baltimore Orioles won the AL East by an unbelievable 12 games over Derek Jeter’s Yankees. This without a true pitching ace, season-ending injuries to All-Stars Manny Machado, and Matt Weiters, and a suspended Chris Davis.
Even with all the disorder in the Os lineup, they were able to lead the league in home runs this season, thanks in large part to Adam Jones. who blasted 29 long balls, and tacked on 30 doubles, all while playing Gold Glove caliber defense, again.
Along with the leadership of Skipper Buck Showalter, one could easily argue that Jones is the key to the Os success the past several seasons in which he won three Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and went to four All-Star games.
Jones’ game might be the smoothest in all of baseball. His swing is easy, yet fierce. He rules center field in the same manner that Ken Griffey Jr. did, dominating. Fly balls don’t get over the head of Adam Jones; they die in the webbing of his glove.
Off the field Jones excels just as much. Earlier this year, Jones was awarded the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation’s award for community service due to his constant activity within the Baltimore community. After Derek Jeter hit his now-famed walk-off single against the Os in his last at-bat in the Bronx, Jones took to Twitter to sing The Captain’s praises: “Couldn’t have asked for a better role model within the game. Jeter thanks for teaching me that grinding is the way to play.”
The Dodgers southpaw ace is the only pitcher you will find on this list. Really, it's hard to be the “face of the game” when you're only pitching every fifth day, but Kershaw is that dominating that he needs to be on this list.
At age 26, Kershaw has already amassed 98 wins and could be the closest thing we will ever see again to a possible 300-game winner. His career ERA is a slim 2.48 with a win-loss percentage of .667, which is first among active pitchers. The winner of two Cy Young Awards, soon to be three, Kershaw is also the frontrunner for the NL MVP award this year. He has been that dominating.
Kershaw was so dominating this season that in the month of June his ERA was 0.87. That is not a typo. That same month, he struck out twice as many batters (61) than he allowed base-runners (30), and threw his first no-hitter on June 19.
In 2014, Kershaw led baseball in wins (21), WHIP (0.86), ERA (1.77), WAR (8.0), complete games (6), win-loss percentage (.875), ERA+ (197), FIP (1.81), strikeouts per nine innings (10.8), and strikeouts-to-walks ratio (7.71). These numbers are plenty enough to argue that Kershaw assembled one of the greatest seasons a pitcher has ever had.
It's not hard to envision Kershaw as the newest “Face of the Game,” as long as he shaves that awful beard.
Let’s face it, once Derek Jeter announced he was retiring earlier in the year, everyone knew that Mike Trout was going to take over as the primary ambassador for the game of baseball. This is truly fitting since Jeter is Mike Trout’s biggest role model.
Trout carries himself in the same way that Jeter does. Quiet and reluctant to fall into the accolades and hype being showered upon him. Trout plays the game hard, every single day.
Trout’s first three seasons have been nothing short of historic. His first year in the bigs, he was AL Rookie of the Year, an All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and second in MVP voting behind Miguel Cabrera — which has happened twice. Many baseball pundits argue that because of Trout’s stellar play as the Angels’ center fielder, he should have been awarded two MVPs. Surely, this season will be the year Trout overthrow’s Miggy’s reign as AL MVP.
To understand the early greatness of Mike Trout, we can look at his WAR (“wins above replacement,” which analyzes how many wins a player is worth per season). Cooperstown legends Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey, Jr., Al Kaline, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, and Ty Cobb all rank behind Trout in terms of WAR accrued through their age-22 seasons. If that wasn’t enough, according to FanGraphs' measurement of WAR, Mike Trout’s young three-year career is one of the greatest three-year stretches in the history of baseball, just behind the best three-year splits of Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Mickey Mantle, Rogers Hornsby, Willie Mays, and Ted Williams. Wow.
Analytics aside, in his first three years, Mike Trout’s career slash line is a ridiculous .305/.395./.549 with 97 home runs, 102 stolen bases, 307 RBI, 111 doubles, an OPS of .945, and an OPS+ of 167. Those numbers are absurd for any player, but for a 23-year-old, they are mythical.
Trout is the runaway consensus AL MVP this season, and it is by far his worst hitting season since being called up for full-time duty in 2012. Even though the numbers with the lumber aren't as gaudy as the previous two years in terms of average, Trout still leads baseball in runs scored (115), extra base-hits (84), and total bases (338). Trout is also the AL leader in RBIs (111) and WAR (7.9). Not to be outdone, he is also top five in the game in homers (36), doubles (39), triples (9), walks (88), slugging percentage (.561), OPS (.939), and OPS+ (167).
Whew, proof enough?
If there is anyone in the game today who can transcend the ballpark and reach the national mainstream, it's Mike Trout, and judging by the 23-year-olds career path thus far, we better get used to seeing him around.
With Jeter stepping down, an era and generation of baseball has ended. It's time now for Trout, Stanton, Rizzo, Jones, and McCutchen to take their spot atop the mountain as the players who will lead the game into the next generation.
— Jake Rose
NBA Media Days are all about talking the talk and looking the part. The day’s cliches about added muscle, renewed focus and championship aspirations have become as predictable as the four seasons. We’ve even got Media Day Bingo to guide us through these tropes:
So when character rears it head on the eve of training camp, it shines through all these dull gestures. Nick Young, a Los Angeles native and happy Lakers returnee — his new deal is worth about $21 million over four years — knows as much about this pomp as anyone. He’s a true showman.
“I’m a star,” he said, chuckling at media day. “Swaggy P” stole the show at the Lakers season-opening presser, smiling a mile a minute as he riffed hilarious lines like: “Kobe practiced with me, I didn’t practice with him… I was showing Kobe the ropes this summer.”
He went on to say that the team’s new rookies (Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle) must call him “Daddy Swag,” “Uncle Swag,” and eventually "Grandpa Swaggy." Young also said he taught new Lakers coach Byron Scott all about team defense over Swaggy’s “summer of enlightenment”—“we need some guys to be in the back, just in case I get blown by,” he jested.
Scott hasn't replied with any of his own jokes, but Kobe certainly has. Here he makes sure we remember who stands in whose shadow in Young's relationship with Australian pop star Iggy Azalea:
Young’s loose, fun confidence has long been a staple of both his personality and his game. Swaggy was a silver lining to last year’s ugly 27-55 Lakers campaign — he blossomed into one of the best hot-handed scorers in the league, averaging 17.9 points per game, a career high. So when he proclaims that he’ll be fighting for both the MVP and Sixth Man awards in this interview, he’s only halfway kidding.
A super-sub version of Young would be an asset to any contender. Swaggy P is a telling personality for the new tone of Lakers-dom. Written off in past seasons for his inefficient, irrationally confident playing style, Young has consistently shrugged the skepticism aside and kept his moxie. No one expects these rag-tag Lakers to be competitive in a loaded Western Conference, but being the underdog suits Young, Kobe Bryant (who spoke of his inner “rage” at media day) and the rest of the new-look Lakers.
Let the year of the Swaggy begin.
— John Wilmes
No. 13 San Diego State is preparing for another run in the NCAA Tournament after reaching the Sweet 16 in two of the last four years. Once an afterthought, winning the Mountain West is now commonplace for Steve Fisher’s team. Do the Aztecs have what it takes to reach truly uncharted territory in the Elite Eight or better?
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San Diego State exceeded expectations last season with the second Sweet 16 appearance in school history, and it will be no surprise to see the Aztecs advance deep into the NCAA Tournament again this season.
The Aztecs lost their top two players in point guard Xavier Thames and rebounding dynamo Josh Davis, but plenty of athleticism and talent remains on campus. San Diego State returns three frontcourt starters (JJ O’Brien, Winston Shepard and Skylar Spencer) and the Mountain West’s top reserve (Dwayne Polee II) from a 31–5 club. They also welcome an impressive cast of newcomers.
Once a program with no tradition that received sparse interest locally, the Aztecs are among the top programs in the West and seeking their 10th consecutive 20-win campaign. San Diego State has won at least 25 contests in five of the last six seasons, topped by a school-best 34–3 mark in 2010-11.
A knack for reloading and the ability to get players to sell out defensively have been trademarks of the program’s recent successful run. The names change, role players develop into standouts and the victories follow.
San Diego State is easily the class of the Mountain West entering this season. The question isn’t whether or not the Aztecs will be part of the NCAA Tournament field. It is this: How far can they advance?
No. 13 San Diego State Facts & Figures
Last season: 31-5, 16-2 Mountain West
Postseason: Sweet 16
Consecutive NCAAs: 5
Coach: Steve Fisher (312-176 overall at San Diego State, 129-99 Mountain West)
Mountain West Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The athletic Shepard will receive the opportunity to show he’s a go-to player after finishing second on the squad in scoring (11.6 ppg) as a sophomore. Shepard fancied himself as a one-and-done college player, but his inconsistent jumper remains a work-in-progress despite impressive versatility to play multiple positions.
Polee was the Mountain West’s Sixth Man of the Year last season, and the 6-7 wing has the nickname — “TramPolee” — to go with his soaring skill set. Polee was a force over the second half of last season and helps present matchup problems if San Diego State opts to start him in a three-forward alignment.
O’Brien and Spencer are returning starters who know their roles. O’Brien, a senior forward, does all the little things and is a strong defender, while Spencer, a 6-10 junior center, established a school record for blocked shots (89) in a season and is on pace to shatter the school’s career mark.
Arizona transfer Angelo Chol and freshman Zylan Cheatham will supply much-needed interior depth. Ballyhooed freshman Malik Pope will receive opportunities to contribute on the wing, while sophomore Matt Shrigley will again play a role after ranking second on the squad in 3-point baskets (40) last season.
San Diego State will be hard-pressed to replace Thames, who emerged as a major star as a senior and became a second-round draft pick of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.
Sophomore D’Erryl Williams played in 20 games off the bench last season and will compete with incoming freshman Kevin Zabo, a Canadian import. Whoever lands the starting point guard role will represent a drop-off from Thames, and coach Steve Fisher will attempt to diminish the amount of pressure the duo will face early in the season.
Incoming freshman Trey Kell will have a chance to make an impact at shooting guard — whether it be as a starter or from off the bench. Kell averaged 25.6 points last season as one of the top prep players in San Diego.
Holdovers Aqeel Quinn and Dakarai Allen will compete for playing time, as will Hartford transfer Parker U’u.
San Diego State figures to be an NCAA Tournament participant for the sixth straight season — an incredible accomplishment for a program that had never notched an NCAA victory prior to the 2011 tourney.
The Aztecs have established an expectation of winning and have reached the Sweet 16 in two of the past four seasons. The next step is making it to the Elite Eight, but the 69-year-old Fisher also has an eye on cracking the Final Four before he retires.
How ready the newcomers are for the big stage might determine whether 2015 is the year in which San Diego State breaks through. The abundance of depth will ensure that a key injury won’t derail those hopes.
Regardless, the Aztecs will again be one of the top programs in the West and a program to watch during the month of March.
Angelo Chol was a valuable reserve at national powerhouse Arizona and has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Malik Pope earned a five-star recruiting grade from one major recruiting service despite missing all of last season with a broken left leg. Zylan Cheatham also figures to make an immediate contribution after being one of the top prep players in the state of Arizona. Trey Kell is a highly regarded shooter, while Kevin Zabo provides much-needed playmaking ability.
Alabama strengthened its grip on the No. 1 spot in the Legends Poll Top 8. Despite not playing, the Crimson Tide received 11 of the 14 first place votes.
Idle Oklahoma moved up a spot to No. 2 and faces a tough road test at Texas Christian this upcoming weekend.
Florida State dropped another spot to No. 3 after a lackluster performance at NC State. The Seminoles’ defense struggled at times, but Florida State managed to hold on against a team they typically struggle with on the road. Oregon and Auburn rounded out the Top 5.
No. 6, Texas A&M kept its spot after grasping a 35-28, come from behind, victory over Arkansas in Dallas. The Aggies were followed by Baylor and Michigan State. Notre Dame dropped out of the Top 8 despite a 31-15 victory over Syracuse. Mississippi State and UCLA also received votes.
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
|3||Florida State (1)||4-0||79||2|
No. 14 Michigan State is riding its longest Final Four drought under Tom Izzo, but don’t pity the poor Spartans who last reached the national semifinals in 2010. Izzo, though, has a challenge with Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Gary Harris gone from a team that won 29 games and reached the Elite Eight. As usual, he’ll have veterans ready to step into lead roles.
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Tom Izzo has built Michigan State to the point where last year’s run to the Elite Eight after a Big Ten Tournament Championship was considered to be an unsatisfying campaign.
Izzo wants to feel good about last year’s injury-strained accomplishments, but wonders if his second national title might have been in store if former point guard Keith Appling hadn’t wrecked his wrist and if former power forward Adreian Payne hadn’t been weighed down by mononucleosis.
Now, the Spartans will need paybacks from the basketball gods in the health category and rapid development from freshmen if they are going to contend for a conference title.
“I like the direction we’re heading right now,” Izzo says. “I think that we could be really good (this) year and then really, really good down the road.”
No. 14 Michigan State Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-9, 12-6 Big Ten
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Consecutive NCAAs: 17
Coach: Tom Izzo (468-187, 221-101 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Third
Postseason Projection: NCAA Sweet 16
The Branden Dawson who averaged 17.5 points during a six-game postseason hot streak is the Dawson that Michigan State desperately needs on a consistent basis. Dawson has honed his perimeter shooting skills to the point of becoming capable of playing the 3. But Michigan State will need him to attack opponents as a mismatch 4, as he did last March when he was Big Ten Tournament MOP.
Dawson has been a transition-and-garbage scorer in the past. But his improved jump shot, coupled with solid ball-handling skills and explosive finishing ability, may allow him to take his game to the next level. It’s rare to find a senior with Dawson’s raw talent. Injuries have kept him in the college ranks. His focus and effort have fluctuated in the past. Now he is driven to have the type of senior year Payne enjoyed last season.
When properly charged, Dawson is one of the most dynamic players in the conference. However, with Payne and Gary Harris gone to the NBA, Dawson will experience defenses designed to contain him for the first time in his college career.
Junior center Matt Costello has added a layer of muscle and appears ready to blossom after a pair of seasons diminished by injury and illness. He has become a quality face-up shooter during the offseason, but his back-to-the-basket skills are average. He is strong enough to command respect on defense and the glass. He has been in the shadow of Payne and former Spartan Derrick Nix for two years. Now Michigan State needs Costello to emerge as a plus pivot, but that might be a year away from coming to fruition.
Interior depth is a major concern. Sophomore Gavin Schilling is a stock-rising banger off the bench. Muscular 6-7 freshman Marvin Clark Jr. will need to contribute due to Izzo’s dismissal of stretch-4 Kenny Kaminski in August.
The depth issues mean Costello will need to play hard while avoiding foul trouble — always a terrible conflict of interest in the Izzo program. That could make it difficult for Michigan State to lead the Big Ten in defensive field goal percentage for a second straight year.
Denzel Valentine is a dazzling passer as a point/wing, and a respectable shooter. He has All-Big Ten potential and a triple-double skill set. With last year’s quiet seniors gone, Valentine’s leadership vocals are providing a fresh vibe. He can provide spot duty at the 4 if necessary.
Combo guard Travis Trice has thickened his once-scrawny body and hopes to finally have a full, healthy season. He’s a streak shooter who is ready to take his role to 30 minutes per game, mostly at the point. Trice is being given the keys to the offense for the first time and could emerge as one of the surprise players in the Big Ten. He’s pretty good, not great.
Alvin Ellis can play defense, run the floor and hit the open jumper, making him a rangy, useful role player.
If Cleveland State transfer Bryn Forbes, a deep shooter, gains immediate eligibility, Michigan State’s depth and offensive firepower will receive a substantial boost.
Leadership is on an upswing with Valentine and Trice. With six departed players and a thinned-out roster, this energetic mix of good personalities is similar to the surprising 2012 group that won the Big Ten and advanced to the Sweet 16 with Draymond Green. But the conference is stronger at the top this year than in 2012.
Lourawls Nairn is the fastest point guard Tom Izzo has ever signed. He struggles with his jump shot and finishing at the rim. Marvin Clark has nice shooting touch and a strong build but must play harder in the medium-range game. Javon Bess is an Izzo-style blue collar battler at the wing. Bryn Forbes was second-team All-Horizon League at Cleveland State, averaging 15.6 points while shooting 42 percent from deep.
No. 15 Iowa State has rebuilt itself into a national contender, and that shouldn’t be any different despite the departures of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim. With a healthy Georges Niang and another influx of transfers, Iowa State will be a team to watch again.
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Iowa State’s run to the Sweet 16 in 2013-14 did more than stamp the Cyclones as a perennial contender in the Big 12. After knocking off North Carolina without an injured Georges Niang in the Round of 32, Iowa State made a name for itself nationally, and with that, Fred Hoiberg has acquired the reputation of being one of the top coaches in the game.
On the back of a trio featuring Niang, Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, Iowa State rattled off wins over Kansas State, Kansas and Baylor to win its first Big 12 Tournament championship since 2000. If it weren’t for a broken foot that Niang suffered in a second-round NCAA Tournament win over North Carolina Central, the red-hot Cyclones could have contended for an appearance in the Final Four.
With the departures of Melvin Ejim, the Big 12’s Player of the Year, and DeAndre Kane, a dynamic guard who averaged 17.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, it is natural to think that Hoiberg’s program could be due for a rebuilding season. However, with another round of transfers set to infiltrate the lineup, it appears that 2014-15 will be anything but that.
No. 15 Iowa State Facts & Figures
Last season: 28-8, 11-7 Big 12
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Consecutive NCAAs: 3
Coach: Fred Hoiberg (90-47 overall, 37-33 Big 12)
Big 12 Projection: Third
Postseason Projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Chemistry and versatility are Hoiberg’s keys to a successful basketball team. Niang possesses both of those characteristics. Niang, who averaged 16.7 points per game as a sophomore, rebounded from the broken foot quite well in the offseason by losing 15 pounds.
“He has always been very tough for bigger players to guard,” Hoiberg says. “The way that he got his body as finely tuned as it is will allow him to be a more versatile basketball player and play more positions.”
What doesn’t show up in the box score is Niang’s natural leadership ability. “Georges is as good as I have ever been around as far as pulling a group together,” Hoiberg says. “I think he knows that this is his team next year.”
Iowa State’s frontcourt will be far from a one-man show. Transfers Jameel McKay (Marquette) and Abdel Nader (Northern Illinois) will make their presence felt in a hurry.
“Jameel will have an immediate impact just because of his motor and his ability to run the floor and protect the rim,” Hoiberg says. “Plus, I think he can give us something on the offensive end.”
McKay, an athletic 6-9 shot-blocker, likely won’t be eligible until December but is the type of player Hoiberg has never had at Iowa State. Nader’s ability to play multiple positions is a strength.
Then, there is Dustin Hogue, an active 6-6 senior who exploded onto the national scene via a 34-point outburst in a Sweet 16 loss to UConn. Between Hogue, who averaged 8.4 rebounds per game last season, and McKay, there is a decent chance that a Cyclone could lead the Big 12 in rebounding this season.
A promising sophomore and a fifth-year graduate transfer are expected to lead the way for the Cyclones on the perimeter. Expect Monte Morris, who did a tremendous job taking care of the ball as a true freshman, to run the show at point guard. He committed only 28 turnovers in 1,013 minutes last season.
Former USC Trojan and UNLV Runnin’ Rebel Bryce Dejean-Jones could ultimately lead Iowa State in scoring. Jones started 26 games for UNLV last season and averaged 13.6 points along the way. He will have the ball in his hands a lot in Hoiberg’s fast-paced system.
Iowa State has depth, too. Junior Naz Long made 46.2 percent of his shots from 3-point range over the last 10 games of last season. Long is one of the program’s emotional leaders in addition to being one of the top sixth-men in the Big 12.
Sophomore Matt Thomas made the second most 3-pointers for freshman in Iowa State history. He averaged 21.2 minutes but did not play more than 20 in any of the final eight games. True freshman Clayton Custer should serve as a quality backup to Morris up at the point.
Once again, Hoiberg has replenished his roster with quality transfers who meld well with veterans like Niang, Long, Morris and Thomas. The talent is on hand for Iowa State to make a legitimate run at a Big 12 championship.
Transfers Bryce Dejean-Jones (UNLV), Abdel Nader (Northern Illinois) and Jameel McKay (Marquette) will all make an immediate impact in Ames. Dejean-Jones is a natural scorer. At 6-6, Nader can hit an outside shot while being a force on the glass as well. McKay could be one of the top rebounders in the Big 12. Freshman Clayton Custer should be the backup point guard. Greek big man Georgios Tsalmpouris is a project.
Georges Niang is hardly a household name among casual fans, but he has earned respect the hard way: by winning. Niang played in the shadow of Nerlens Noel and Wayne Selden in prep school but was part of an Iowa State trio a year ago — along with Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane — that wound up winning the league tourney.
Now it’s Niang’s team, and the 6-7 Massachusetts native has completely transformed his body. Niang discusses his trash-talking methods, why he stuck with Iowa State and where he got his first name from.
This interview and more appears in the 2014-15 Athlon Sports college basketball annual, available on newsstands and in our online store now.
OK, so why the “S” at the end of your first name?
I was named after one of my dad’s best friends, who was originally from Africa. It’s actually supposed to be pronounced with a French accent since he was French, but I don’t want anyone to do that. But the “S” is silent. I’ve heard people pronounce it so many different ways that I don’t even bother to correct them. I just go with it.
You played against Nerlens Noel and Wayne Selden every day for two years at the Tilton School in New Hampshire. What did you learn from those guys?
I learned how to slow down playing against Nerlens, how to put the defender on the hot seat and make them guess on what move is coming. I learned how to compete against Wayne. Those guys made me a lot better, but the guy I really watched and learned from when I arrived at Tilton was Alex Oriakhi. I was a freshman and he was a junior at the time, and I really tried to model myself after Alex. He’s a great kid who worked so hard.
You committed to Iowa State as an unknown, but then started to get attention after a strong showing at the Peach Jam. Why did you remain loyal to the Cyclones despite high-profile schools trying to get you to re-open your recruitment?
I remember the first time Coach (Fred) Hoiberg saw me. I was playing St. Mark’s — which had Nik Stauskas, Kaleb Tarczewski and Alex Murphy — and I didn’t miss a shot. I was 11-for-11, and he said afterwards that he wanted me to be a part of Plan A at Iowa State. They were the first school that believed in me. I trusted them and committed on May 15 before my junior season. I’m not going to call out specific schools, but there were schools who called me and told me not to go to Iowa State — that there’s nothing in Iowa and to come play with us. But I knew Iowa State was where I wanted to be. I never even thought about going anywhere else.
You’ve had two pretty good seasons in Ames, and I saw that one ESPN writer even had you on his Preseason first-team All-America team. However, there are plenty of fans who have no idea who you are. Why is that?
I agree. I think there are plenty of fans who think I’m just a bum who should be down at the YMCA, but I think I get respect from the guys that really know basketball. I work so hard, and I don’t think people understand how hard I work to improve. A lot of players in the league are gifted with athleticism. I wasn’t really gifted with any.
You broke your foot in Iowa State’s opening-round NCAA win against NC Central and weren’t able to do anything until May, yet you look to be in the best shape of your career when you showed up at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July. How were you able to manage the transformation?
The first week of May, I was still in a boot. I went back to Massachusetts with my trainer, and he sat me down. I weighed 255 and had 16 percent body fat. He said we can do it the hard way or you can walk away. I went with the hard way. I did yoga every day, lifted and did conditioning every day for four weeks and went twice every day on the court. They were long days, but were worth it. Now everyone who first sees me reacts the same way: “Holy @#$%.” It feels good because I’m a lot healthier than I was before. I feel better when I wake up. I eat better. It’s just a lifestyle change. Now I’m at 227 to 230 and am trying to get that vertical up!
What do you remember about the game against NC Central in which you broke your foot?
I felt a snap and fell to the ground. I’d broken my left foot before. I came out of the game and Coach Hoiberg told me to sit down. After a little while, he told me to check back in. It didn’t hurt when I got up, but then it was bad when I took the first couple of steps. I went in, scored five points — on a 3 and a floater — and then told him to take me out of the game. They did x-rays and told me I broke it. I was upset, but more because I felt bad for my team.
DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim are both gone now. How does that alter your role?
I think I’ll have to do more of what they did well — be a better rebounder since Melvin was such a great rebounder and be a better playmaker since that’s what DeAndre did so well. I was a leader last year, but I’ll have to step up in that area as well. I think the biggest thing for me is just to make plays.
Fred Hoiberg seems so mellow on the sidelines and even off the court. What’s an example when he actually showed some real emotion?
It came after we lost three games in a row — to Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Usually, he walks into the film room and is really quiet. He rolls in, says “What’s up, fellas” and sits down. Well, that day he walked in and says, “Show some emotion, guys.” He goes up to one of our guys and chest-bumps him — he’s yelling and screaming. I thought Tom Izzo had walked in. But he wanted to let us know that we played with no life.
You are admittedly one of the better trash-talkers around. Who else do you respect for their trash-talking ability and what is your reasoning for talking to opponents?
DeAndre Kane knows how to get under guys’ skin. He’d make guys take tough shots. (Former Oklahoma State guard) Markel Brown can talk with the best of them. He’s a silent assassin and talks when no one is expecting it. I usually do it when someone is killing us and you want them to get off their game. You want to draw a rift between the other team. For instance, when (Oklahoma State’s) Marcus Smart is killing us, I’d start telling him he should have left last year — and then tell his teammates that he doesn’t trust them.
You guys will add a couple more transfers this year in Bryce Dejean-Jones (UNLV) and Abdel Nader (Northern Illinois) in addition to junior college transfer Jameel McKay. How different will this team be?
We’ll buckle down better defensively, but with Fred, you’ll always expect a team that will compete every night. I think we’ll have more overall talent this year than in my first two years, but the key is putting it all together. We don’t have the chemistry yet — and that can make or break a season.
What’s your favorite place to play other than your gym?
Phog Allen (Fieldhouse, at Kansas). There’s so much energy in that building. I love going in there. The fans are as crazy as our fans and it’s just wild.
What’s your least favorite place to play?
I don’t want to upset Buddy (Hield), but probably Oklahoma or TCU. We always play in Oklahoma in the morning and it’s so dull. There’s also nothing exciting about Norman. TCU is always dead, although they should be better this year.
Other than Coach Hoiberg, who would be a coach you’d want to play for?
This might get me into trouble, but (Kansas) Coach (Bill) Self. I really have a lot of respect for him, because I like the way he runs a tight ship — and even though he does it differently than Coach Hoiberg, he demands a lot from his guys.
Who is the toughest player you’ve had to guard?
It was Romero Osby from Oklahoma a couple years ago. I held him to seven points the first time we played, but then he dialed me up for 27 and did it with every type of move.
Where would you be if you weren’t at Iowa State?
If Boston College had offered me a scholarship, that’s where I’d probably be. I grew up down the road and always wanted to stay close to home.
It's Week 5 of the 2014 college fantasy football season, and non-conference play is coming to a close. Who should you start or bench in your lineup this week? TheCFFSite.com's Joe DiSalvo runs down the start or sit options for this Saturday to help you win your league.
Maty Mauk, QB-Missouri at South Carolina
There are only nine teams in the nation allowing more than 300 passing yards per game, and the Gamecocks are one of those nine.
Trevone Boykin, QB-TCU at SMU
Boykin has the pleasure of playing against an SMU defense that is allowing 530 yards per game and an FBS worst 48.7 points per game.
Deshaun Watson, QB-Clemson vs North Carolina
The Deshaun Watson era is now upon us and we like his matchup this week against a reeling North Carolina defense.
Leonard Fournett and Kenny Hilliard, RBs-LSU vs New Mexico State
The Aggies are allowing 299.3 rushing yards per game, and if the Tigers reach that number this week, chances are pretty good that both Fournette and Hilliard will eclipse the 100-yard mark.
Kenneth Dixon, RB-Louisiana Tech at Auburn
Even though the Bulldogs travel to Auburn this week, Dixon should still get a significant amount of carries and the junior running back has scored a touchdown in every game this season.
Alex Collins, RB-Arkansas vs Texas A&M
The Aggies are the only team in the entire FBS that have played four games and not given up a rushing touchdown. We’re expecting that statistic to change this week when the Texas A&M front seven faces their toughest challenge to date.
Malcolm Brown, RB-Texas at Kansas
Brown has not rushed for 70 yards in a game this season, but a Week 5 matchup at Kansas could produce his first 100-yard performance of 2014.
Antwan Goodley, WR-Baylor at Iowa State
Goodley and Corey Coleman return for the Bears this week, which means trouble for opposing defenses. However, their return also presents trouble for fantasy owners when it comes to making roster decisions. When Baylor travels to Iowa State this weekend, Goodley and teammate K.D. Cannon are likely the two best fantasy options at receiver.
Tajae Sharpe, WR-Massachusetts vs Bowling Green
Bowling Green is giving up over 337 yards per game in the air, second-worst in the FBS, and Sharpe is the primary receiving threat for the Minutemen.
Cody Kessler, QB-USC and Sean Mannion, QB-Oregon State
Why did we link these two names together? Well, we have your water cooler stat of the week. Both defense combined are giving up a total of 308 passing yards per game. That’s a combined total! A product of their competition? Maybe. USC did just play a run-heavy offense in Boston College. However, neither team has given up a passing TD in 2014 and both defenses have 5 INTs each. Something has to give this week, but are you willing to take that chance? We did rank Kessler at No. 27, but you may have better options on your roster.
Gunner Kiel, QB-Cincinnati at Ohio State
Kiel has thrown ten TD passes in the Bearcats first two games of 2014 (Toledo and Miami-OH), but this week he’ll face a much better defense in Ohio State, the third-best pass defense in the nation allowing 99.3 passing yards per game.
Terrel Hunt, QB-Syracuse vs Notre Dame
Hunt has accounted for at least 90 rushing yards and totaled six touchdowns in Syracuse’s previous two games. However, a date with Notre Dame this weekend should minimize the potential for a big game. The Irish are only one of two FBS schools that have not given up a rushing touchdown this season.
Marquise Williams, QB-North Carolina at Clemson
We always advise playing a guy when he’s hot, but after last week’s loss to East Carolina, Williams certainly does not meet that requirement, and a road game at Clemson will not make things any easier.
Kareem Hunt, RB-Toledo vs Central Michigan
Hunt has missed the second half in Toledo’s previous two games due to injury, and earlier this week, coach Campbell stated that his sophomore running back looked ‘okay’ in practice. ‘Okay’ isn’t convincing enough for us, and unless we hear more, Hunt should sit this one out.
Dee Hart, RB-Colorado State at Boston College
Hart excited fantasy owners after his Week 1 performance against Colorado, but the Alabama transfer has done very little since then. Fellow running back Treyous Jarrells has been impressive running the ball, too, so continue to expect a RBBC from the Rams.
Marlon Mack, RB-South Florida at Wisconsin
If the game against Wisconsin gets out of hand, expect Mack to lose a significant amount of carries to D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice.
Dominique Brown, RB-Louisville vs Wake Forest
Now that Michael Dwyer is back in the mix, it will be interesting to see how the carries shake out in the Louisville backfield moving forward.
Jacobi Owens, RB-Air Force vs Boise State
Owens has rushed for 431 yards and three TDs in Air Force’s first three games, but this week he will face the nation’s second-best run defense in Boise State (53.5 rypg).
Shaun Wick, RB-Wyoming at Michigan State
Wick has topped the 100-yard mark three times in four games, but this week the Cowboys travel to Michigan State and the Spartans are only giving up 71.7 yards per game on the ground, 21.0 ypg to teams not named Oregon.
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DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for Week 5, 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 Tanner McEvoy, Wisconsin vs. South Florida ($5600)
McEvoy ran for 158 yards and a score last week versus Bowling Green and has been putting up solid numbers over the past few weeks. He could have a big day against a weak USF defense that will likely have no answer for the Badgers offense.
2) QB P.J. Walker, Temple vs. UCONN ($5200)
Walker has been a decent DFS option this year and could put up a big effort against UCONN. Look for Walker to hit value this week and allow DFS players to load up at another position.
1) RB Jon Hilliman, BC vs. Colorado State ($3700)
This bruising freshman has scored four touchdowns in the past two games and appears to have taken control of the BC backfield. He could find the end zone again this week against a Colorado State defense that ranks 103rd against the run this year. Expect Hilliman to easily surpass value this week.
2) RB Corey Clement, Wisconsin vs. South Florida ($4800)
Clement ran for 111 yards and two scores last week against Bowling Green and there is little reason to believe he won’t duplicate those numbers this week against South Florida. This game could get out of hand early, leading to more carries for Clement. Expect this Badgers to pay off big time this week.
3) RB Desmon Peoples, Rutgers vs. Tulane ($4800)
Peoples should see plenty of carries this week with the season ending injury to Paul James. He has proven to be a capable backup and could really do some damage against a Tulane defense that ranks 100th against the run this year. If it wasn't for sophmore Justin Goodwin snaking carries, Peoples would be a no-brainer play.
1) WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State vs. Cincinnati ($4400)
Thomas has scored in every game this season and looks to be the main target in the Ohio State passing game. He could find plenty of open space this week against a Cincinnati pass defense that ranks 108th in the country. A trip or two to the end zone seems likely for Thomas this week.
2) WR Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech vs. Western Michigan ($4400)
Ford has scored twice over the past two games and is averaging 7.5 receptions per game over that span. He could continue his recent success against an overmatched Western Michigan defense. Expect Ford to easily hit value this week.
1) TE Sam Arneson, Wisconsin vs. South Florida ($2900)
In case you have not noticed, there is a distinct Wisconsin flavor this week. Arneson has been very productive over the past two games and appears to be under priced this week. Paying up for a TE is not a generally a great strategy, so run with Arneson this week.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Brad Kaaya, Miami vs. Duke ($5000)
This true freshman has played pretty well over the past two weeks, throwing seven touchdowns and averaging 350 yards per game. He may have to throw the ball often in this showdown with Duke. He looks like a nice punt option this week.
2) Terrel Hunt, Syracuse vs. Notre Dame ($5800)
Hunt has run for five touchdowns over the past two games and has put up huge fantasy numbers. He has a touch test this week with Notre Dame on the schedule, but his numbers are too good to ignore. He may not post huge numbers, but could easily be worth his price tag.
1) RB Terron Ward, Oregon State vs. USC ($5300)
Ward has scored four rushing touchdowns over the past two games and is also an excellent receiving option out of the backfield. He could have a big game against at Trojan rush defense that ranks 116th in the nation. Look for plenty of points in this contest and plenty of fantasy points from Ward.
1) WR Jimmie Hunt, Missouri vs. South Carolina ($4100)
Hunt has scored five touchdowns in the last three games and could see even more targets this week with Darius White likely out with an injury. The South Carolina pass defense ranks 116th in the country and could afford Hunt plenty of opportunities this week. Look for Hunt to easily hit value this week.
2) WR Cody Core, Ole Miss vs. Memphis ($4400)
Core has scored a touchdown in every game this season and has developed into the top deep threat for the Rebels. He could find plenty of success this week against a Memphis defense that may be hard pressed to stop the Ole Miss passing attack.
1) TE Alan Cross, Memphis vs. Ole Miss ($2900)
Cross has recorded three touchdowns on the season and is the 2nd leading receiver for Memphis. He looks to be a nice option at a weak TE position.
- By Todd DeVries and Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
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No. 16 Virginia enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2013-14, sweeping the ACC regular season and tournament titles for the first time in school history. Star guard Joe Harris is gone, but coach Tony Bennett has built a program to last around Malcolm Brogdon and more.
The Virginia edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
Virginia arrived on the national scene last season, very much at its own measured pace. After four years of incremental progress under Tony Bennett, the Cavaliers broke through the program’s longtime ceiling, winning the ACC regular-season title outright for the first time in 33 years, the conference tourney for the first time in 38 and advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time since 1995.
It was validation of Bennett’s methodical approach, both on and off the court, and he was rewarded with a contract extension through 2021. It further solidifies him as a long-haul sort of guy, who never wavered from his principles, despite multiple player defections and criticism that Virginia’s deliberate style of play is not exciting.
“You have a vision when you take the job,” he told Virginiasports.com. “You kind of have a plan in place. You hope that if things progress or go as you envision, you’ll have a chance to touch those special things: conference championships, tournament championships, deep runs in the NCAA Tournament, ultimately a chance at a national championship. That’s always the ultimate goal. But until you get close to it and knock on the door to it, you always wonder, ‘Can we?’ But (2013-14) just validates that it is possible.”
Indeed, with three starters and seven of its top nine scorers back, Virginia should be in the hunt in the ACC once again. Bennett must replace sharp-shooting Joe Harris and the dependable Akil Mitchell, but there’s no shortage of depth and talent in a program that has established a firm identity and looks to be on solid footing for years to come.
No. 16 Virginia Facts & Figures
Last season: 30-7, 16-2 ACC
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Coach: Tony Bennett (106-60 overall, 48-36 ACC)
ACC Projection: Fourth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Even with graduation of Mitchell, a stalwart defender and rebounder who epitomized Virginia’s team-first approach, the Cavaliers have size, depth and experience up front.
The man in the middle is 6-11 Mike Tobey, who has shown flashes of ability as a low-post scorer and will be counted on for more consistency now that he’s an upperclassman.
“When you go from being an underclassman to an upperclassman, now you’re without excuse, we like to say,” Bennett says.
Also in that category is junior Anthony Gill, who provided a shot of physicality and aggressiveness off the bench last season. Gill, who began his career at South Carolina, should move into the starting lineup. A versatile scorer, he’ll be able to show more of the skills that he demonstrated while averaging 12.7 points in the ACC Tournament.
Darion Atkins, who was lost in the shuffle at times last year, should get more playing time, particularly if he can do some of the dirty work Mitchell was so good at. Evan Nolte is a perimeter sniper. For freshmen Jack Salt and Isaiah Wilkins and Marial Shayok, playing time will depend on their ability to pick up Bennett’s non-negotiable defensive principles.
No one puts up eye-popping numbers in Virginia’s share-the-wealth system, and that is the primary reason Malcolm Brogdon failed to earn All-ACC numbers. Make no mistake, though, the versatile guard was the most valuable player on the league’s best team. He’s also making the turn from underclassman to veteran, and should be one of the conference’s top performers.
Point guard London Perrantes was a freshman find. Teammates dubbed the Los Angeles product “Cali Swag” for his cool, steady floor generalship. Justin Anderson, voted the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year, is capable of getting up and down with the best of them when Virginia lets its hair down in transition. Devon Hall, coming off a redshirt season, should be ready to back up Perrantes.
As in the frontcourt, Virginia is loaded.
The bar has been raised at Virginia. Winning the ACC, earning a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and taking Michigan State to the brink in a Sweet 16 game has changed perceptions of what’s possible, and not just for fans.
Last year proved that if things go well, big goals are “not as far away as you think,” Bennett says.
Bennett’s system remains an acquired taste. The Cavaliers make the extra pass — or three — and they played at the nation’s sixth-slowest tempo last season. The selflessness and commitment to defense that Bennett requires of players is not for everybody.
It’s hard to argue with the results, though, and last year’s success has only left players and fans wanting more.
The Cavaliers may not have the ACC’s top class, but they might have its most pedigreed. Isaiah Wilkins, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Georgia, is the son of Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins. Guard B.J. Stith is the son of Bryant Stith, who is Virginia’s all-time leading scorer and played 10 years in the NBA. Jack Salt brings a reputation for physical play. Marial Shayok originally signed with Marquette.
No. 17 Colorado is enjoying the best era of basketball in program history. Tad Boyle has led the Buffaloes to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments and four consecutive postseason appearances despite an injury to their top player a year ago. Colorado has managed to recover from injuries and major departures, and the Buffs, when healthy, should be in Pac-12 contention.
The Colorado edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
The Buffs advanced to their third consecutive NCAA Tournament and fourth consecutive postseason — but the season felt like it ended in January.
When point guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a torn ACL and freshman guard Tre’Shaun Fletcher suffered a sprained knee —both in the same game at Washington on Jan. 12 — it was obvious the Buffs weren’t going to go as far as they hoped.
Tad Boyle managed to rally his young team to a to a tie for third place in the Pac-12 and a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Buffs played poorly in their only postseason game and were ousted with ease by Pittsburgh.
Dinwiddie bolted for the NBA to no one’s surprise, but the remainder of the team returns. This will be Boyle’s deepest and most talented team from top to bottom even if it lacks that one true star in the mold of Dinwiddie, Andre Roberson or Alec Burks.
For the second consecutive season, CU will have legitimate goals of contending for a Pac-12 title and advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. That’s the next big step for a program that has significantly raised the expectations of its fan base since Boyle was hired.
No. 17 Colorado Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-12, 10-8 Pac-12
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAAs: 3
Coach: Tad Boyle (92-49 overall, 39-31 Pac-12)
Pac-12 Projection: Second
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Forward Josh Scott is expected to be one of the elite big men in the the nation in his junior season after a sophomore campaign in which he averaged 14.1 points and 8.4 rebounds. He has produced 15 double-doubles in his first two college seasons combined with the majority coming last year. Scott made 51.1 percent of his shots and knocked down 81 percent of his free throw attempts. The area in which he must improve is handling double teams and passing out of them.
The program is hoping for a jump in production from sophomore Wesley Gordon, who is one of the most athletic players on the team. Gordon started 27 games last season but wasn’t much of an offensive threat. He averaged 5.9 points per game and shot under 50 percent from the floor.
The addition of 6-9 freshman Tory Miller will boost depth in the post. Boyle describes Miller as “physically ready to play at this level.” Junior Xavier Johnson and sophomore Dustin Thomas are the only other players on the roster who are capable of providing minutes inside, though both generally play on the wing.
Senior guard Askia Booker has the opportunity to become the first player in CU history to play in the NCAA Tournament in all four years of his career. He started every game the past two seasons. Booker improved as a decision-maker as a junior, but he still has a tendency to try to do too much, and he’s not a consistent enough shooter to take chances. He made only 37-of-136 3-point attempts as a junior.
Boyle calls Fletcher the X-factor because he was developing nicely in the first two months of his freshman season before his injury. “He never really kind of got back in the flow and never really got back in the rotation cause he came back so late,” Boyle says. “He has great length and great size. He can put the ball on the floor. He can shoot it. He’s got a chance to really make an impact on this team.”
Point guards Xavier Talton and Jaron Hopkins averaged more than 18 minutes per game last season. The hope is one takes control of that job this season to allow Booker to play his role as a shooter and freshman Dominique Collier to ease into the college game.
Both Talton and Hopkins to approve their assist-to-turnover ratio in a big way. If neither player shows significant improvement, Collier could move into a significant role as a true freshman.
Junior Eli Stalzer and sophomore George King each played in 27 games last season. They add solid depth.
The Buffaloes have the talent an depth to compete for a Pac-12 title. It’s not a team without flaws, however. To make a serious run at Arizona — the overwhelming favorite to win the league — Colorado must identify a primary point guard and improve its shooting from the perimeter.
Guard Dominique Collier comes to Boulder with big expectations after winning the state championship on his future college home court.. CU also landed big man Tory Miller, who should add some physical toughness immediately. He will be asked to rebound and defend first.
There was a time when Robert Griffin III’s future in Washington seemed limitless. In fact, some said he represented the future of the NFL. Like Michael Vick was supposed to be a decade or so earlier, RGIII was to become a new-age quarterback/weapon. The first quarterback who could be truly as dangerous throwing as he was on the run.
His unlimited potential is why the Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to move up to get him with the second pick of the 2012 draft. It’s why he instantly became a favorite of owner Dan Snyder, who even forced coach Mike Shanahan out when he reportedly took RGIII’s side in an internal squabble. It’s why, in his two NFL seasons, so many opposing defenders spoke of him with awe.
But now that RGIII is out with a dislocated ankle – the second major injury of his young career – it’s fair to wonder if he has much of a future at all. The Redskins appear to thrive when the less-mobile, more pocket-oriented Kirk Cousins is under center. And it sure looks like the ‘Skins are at least open to the idea of Cousins permanently taking RGIII’s place at the helm.
“Crazy things have happened in the NFL,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said when asked about that possibility. “I am not going to discount anybody or anything. I am not going to try and pull out a crystal ball and say what is going to happen tomorrow or next week. I know for the next six weeks we are going to concentrate on Kirk as a quarterback. We feel very strongly that he can get the job done.
“Whatever happens after that, I will deal with then.”
Well, imagine this scenario, then. Cousins turns the hapless Redskins into winners and the team thrives in its new offense with a quarterback who plays a more traditional style. Griffin still has “significant” value around the NFL, according to a report in the Washington Post. So could Washington recoup some of its losses in an offseason trade?
It’s certainly possible if RGIII recovers fully from his latest serious injury. And if he does, here are some of the teams that should be knocking at the Redskins’ door:
Tennessee Titans – Jake Locker is in his fourth and what should be his final season with the Titans, who need a fresh start all around. RGIII wouldn’t just jumpstart their offense, he’d give them a huge boost of excitement and energy which they’ve lacked since coach Jeff Fisher left town.
Dallas Cowboys – Jerry Jones regretted not drafting Johnny Manziel about five minutes after the Cowboys passed on him, because he thought Johnny Football would help keep his franchise relevant. Well, RGIII – again, a Texas native – would do the same. And it would give them a future beyond the career of Tony Romo, who is 33.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Josh McCown isn’t a long-term or short-term solution for their problems, and the Lovie Smith regime seems set against handing the ball to young Mike Glennon. They are destined to draft a QB in the first round next spring – possibly with the No. 1 overall pick. They might be able to fix their problems quicker if they get one with experience, like RGIII.
St. Louis Rams – Sam Bradford was once supposed to be their future, but he’s had worse injury luck than Griffin. Now the Rams are stuck with Shaun Hill and Austin Davis and they have to be looking toward their next franchise quarterback. Coach Jeff Fisher once had a lot of success turning a quarterback who liked to run in Steve McNair into a terrific all-around weapon. Maybe with RGIII he could do the same.
New England Patriots – Tom Brady is 37 years old and they don’t yet have a succession plan. Brady said he’s going to play until he stinks, and he’s not close to that yet. RGIII would be a little too high-octane to be a backup, but if any organization can handle that it’s the Bill Belichick machine.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
No. 18 Gonzaga is gearing up for another run beyond an West Coast Conference title and an NCAA Tournament appearance, which has become the standard in 15 seasons under Mark Few. The Zags have brought in a handful of transfers to combine with the veteran inside-out duo of Kevin Pangos and Przemek Karnowski for a program hoping to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009.
The Gonzaga edition is one of dozens available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere now.
In one of those way-too-early preseason polls released shortly after Connecticut won the NCAA championship in April, Gonzaga checked in at No. 9, and according to coach Mark Few, there’s a possibility that this could be his best team.
On paper, it’s hard to argue, and those who know Few know he’s not prone to hyperbole, particularly when his team is involved.
Two years removed from the program’s first No. 1 ranking and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Zags have assembled a team that looks long on promise and short on weaknesses. The Bulldogs have experience, depth, size, shooters, post-up options and versatility.
No. 18 Gonzaga Facts & Figures
Last season: 29-6, 15-3 West Coast
Postseason: NCAA round of 32
Consecutive NCAAs: 16
Coach: Mark Few (403-100 overall, 193-25 WCC)
WCC Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Przemek Karnowski’s development seems to be right on track. The 7-1 center has made noticeable changes to his body, trimming off pounds while adding strength and endurance. He’s expanded his offensive arsenal and excels at putting opposing bigs in foul trouble. He was a force on defense, swatting 62 shots and, for the most part, doing a better job of avoiding foul trouble himself as the season progressed. He had double-doubles in GU’s two NCAA Tournament games.
Sam Dower Jr., Karnowski’s sidekick last season, has moved on to the professional ranks. Enter Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, a highly skilled 6-10 forward. He spent last season working with trainer Travis Knight, who helped remodel Kelly Olynyk’s body during a redshirt year prior to his breakout season in 2013. Wiltjer, who came off the bench for Kentucky’s 2012 national championship team, has shooting range beyond the 3-point line, and his added muscle should help him operate in the lane.
Domantas Sabonis, another skilled 6-10 forward, could be the first big off the bench. The 18-year-old Sabonis, son of Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, has held his own against some of the best players in the world.
It’s a much different scenario than last season, when Gonzaga often turned to 6-7 Drew Barham and 6-5 Kyle Dranginis as Dower’s primary backups.
Angel Nunez is another option. The athletic, 6-8 Nunez was eligible for the final two-thirds of last season and made contributions in several games. With a full season in the program and an offseason to develop, Nunez could see more minutes. Seven-footer Ryan Edwards could redshirt or serve as Karnowski’s backup for the second straight year.
Guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. cracked the starting lineup as freshmen, and they’ve been there ever since, combining for 187 starts. Both are career double-figure scorers (Pangos 13.3 ppg, Bell 10.1 ppg) and excellent 3-point shooters (Pangos 40.9 percent, Bell 42.8 precent), and they also do a good job taking care of the basketball.
The two have dealt with a lot of wear and tear on their bodies. Pangos played with toe and ankle injuries from early December through the remainder of the season but didn’t miss a game. Few has called Pangos the toughest kid he’s ever coached. Bell has had offseason surgeries the last two years.
The wing position isn’t as settled, but there are quality options in Kyle Dranginis, USC transfer Byron Wesley and possibly Vanderbilt transfer Eric McClellan. Dranginis had a solid sophomore season, stepping in as a starter when Bell was sidelined by a broken hand. His versatility was reflected in his stats with averages of 6.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals. Wesley, who is eligible immediately, led USC in scoring (17.8 ppg) and rebounding (6.4 rpg) last season. McClellan, who will be eligible in December, was Vanderbilt’s leading scorer (14.3 ppg) before being dismissed from the team after 12 games.
Gonzaga also has highly regarded incoming freshmen Josh Perkins and Silas Melson.
The Zags are heavy favorites to win their 14th WCC crown in 15 seasons. They have an impressive roster, led by the rock-solid backcourt of Pangos and Bell Jr. and possibly one of the nation’s better frontcourt tandems in Karnowski and Wiltjer. Any of those four players could be considered a WCC Player of the Year candidate, though the team’s balance might overshadow individual honors.
But Gonzaga’s goals extend beyond the WCC. The Zags have played in the NCAAs in 16 straight seasons, and they have the potential to make their stay in this season’s tournament a long one.
Kyle Wiltjer’s knowledge of the game and ability to spread the floor should help his pairing with Przemek Karnowski flourish. Wiltjer’s offseason work in the weight room figures to bring an inside-outside balance to his game. Byron Wesley should have an impact at both ends of the floor, and Eric McClellan could eventually do the same. Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, the backcourt of the future, and the talented Domantas Sabonis figure to have roles in the rotation.
For the early part of the 2014 season, Nick Saban was looking for a quarterback to step up and lead his Alabama team. Blake Sims has done just that.
Sims threw five touchdown passes against Florida on Saturday and amassed 445 yards through the air. And with the convincing 41-21 victory over Florida in Tuscaloosa, Alabama jumped Florida State to take over the No. 1 spot in the Legends Poll Top 8. The Tide received eight of the 14 first-place votes.
Second-ranked Florida State managed to squeak by Clemson in overtime, 23-17, playing at home without star quarterback Jameis Winston. On short notice, backup Sean Maguire was asked to step in due to Winston’s suspension, and Maguire hung tough against a blitz happy Clemson defense. The Seminoles received 5 first-place votes.
Oklahoma notched the other first-place vote and jumped up to the No. 3 after beating West Virginia 45-33 in Morgantown, WV. Freshman RB Samaje Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns in the Big 12 match-up.
Oregon slid two places to No. 4 after a tight win over Washington State, 38-31. Mariota threw for 329 yards and five touchdowns, continuing his Heisman Trophy campaign, despite being sacked seven times.
No. 4 Oregon was followed by Auburn, Texas A&M, and Baylor in the Legends Poll rankings.
No. 8 Notre Dame made its debut in the Legends Poll Top 8 this week, replacing LSU, which was stunned at home by Mississippi State, 34-29, Saturday night.
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
|2||Florida State (5)||3-0||92||1|
No. 19 VCU continues to be one of the most consistent programs outside of a major conference with at least 24 wins in the each of the last eight seasons. The Rams are poised for more that simply consistent production with a highly touted signing class and a challenging non-conference schedule.
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Last season was a transition year for VCU as a program. The Rams graduated from a program that could be a national player in the wake of their 2011 Final Four run to a program that is a national player. VCU earned its second straight No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and was upset by Stephen F. Austin in its opening game. The fact that VCU has moved from underdog to heavyweight is the storyline going into this season.
Coach Shaka Smart adds a top-30 rated recruiting class as he looks to earn his first Atlantic 10 title. That class may provide the kind of depth he desires to wear out the opposition in his havoc style.
“We do what we do, and that’s be an up-tempo team that attacks for all 94 feet,” Smart says. “(The freshmen) can add to our depth, which plays into our style of play and hopefully takes us to another level, to be more successful than last year.”
The Rams will be picked atop the Atlantic 10 not because of the incoming freshmen, but rather for a roster stocked with firepower and aggressiveness. VCU boasts the A-10 preseason Player of the Year in Treveon Graham and defensive menace Briante Weber. The duo meshes with a talented returning cast, adding up to a group that will be a formidable foe every time it steps on the court.
No. 19 VCU Facts & Figures
Last season: 26-9, 12-4 Atlantic 10
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAAs: 4
Coach: Shaka Smart (137-46 at VCU, 62-24 CAA/A-10)
A-10 Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Smart has to replace two-time All-A-10 performer Juvonte Reddic on his frontline. Sophomore Mo Alie-Cox may be the answer. Cox is freakishly built, a muscled 6-6 specimen who resembles a tight end but jumps like a pogo stick. Alie-Cox, who blocked five shots in a March win over Saint Louis, is a rim protector on defense but has a limited (for now) offensive game.
“Our team feeds off of him and the plays he makes,” Smart says, “and we’re excited about his improvement.”
For offensive production on the front line, Smart can turn to 6-9 redshirt freshman Antravious Simmons and his old school back-to-the-basket game or senior Jarred Guest, a spidery 6-8 face-up post player with a 15-foot jumper. Freshmen Mike Gilmore and Justin Tillman will also battle the returnees for playing time. Both carry the skill to make a difference but also need to adjust to the college game.
Graham will also slide down to play the 4 to give VCU a matchup advantage.
Weber has been among the league leaders in steals during his three-year career. He adjusted well to a new position last season, point guard, and enters his senior year a more mature player. “It’s been an ongoing process, but he’s made huge strides,” Smart says, “and we’re excited in terms of Briante as a leader and a winner.” Weber has a steady backup in speedy sophomore JeQuan Lewis.
Melvin Johnson hurt his knee twice last season but can be a lights-out shooter. Johnson hit eight 3s against Virginia Tech and has bought in to the system. Jordan Burgess hit 26 3-pointers in his freshman season and brings a level of toughness to the court that cannot be ignored.
Graham is within range of breaking the school’s all-time scoring record. He can hit the 3 but also earned the nickname Freight Train for his ability to steam down the lane, absorb contact and score.
Terry Larrier, a pure athlete and Smart’s best-ever recruit, will also see significant minutes on the perimeter.
Next season will begin with VCU riding a 20-game home winning streak and with 50 consecutive home sellouts. The Rams also have made the NCAA Tournament a habit, with bids in each of the last four seasons. Over the past 10 years, VCU has 251 wins, which ranks 14th-most in the country over that span.
VCU will be tested in the non-conference this season. Games against Virginia, Villanova, Tennessee and Cincinnati dot a stacked schedule. But for Smart, it isn’t about the opponent. It’s about VCU.
“Our overall team shooting needs to be better. We shot too low a percentage for us from the field,” he says. “But we’re a much-improved shooting team this year, which will make us a higher-scoring team.”
It’s a loaded class for Shaka Smart, led by silky Terry Larrier, rated a consensus top-50 recruit who could make immediate waves. Justin Tillman is explosive at 6-7 and will also challenge for time in the frontcourt. Mike Gilmore has a promising future, and Jonathan Williams is a commanding presence at point guard. Antravious Simmons is a redshirt freshman who can score on the low block.
The Big Ten finally put together a solid weekend as a conference, which means sorting through the box scores for some notable stats was far less of a chore. The big theme of the week seemed to be success in the running game, with two of the top running backs in the country having huge performances. But that was not all to take note of this week around the Big Ten.
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 4 in the Big Ten
12: Number of Big Ten teams to win in Week 4
It may not be quite enough to make up completely for some of the recent struggles throughout the conference, but it was certainly a more enjoyable weekend around the Big Ten for Big Ten fans. That is, of course, except for those in Ann Arbor. The only two Big Ten teams not to win this weekend were Michigan and Ohio State. The Buckeyes get a pass after having a bye week. Michigan, though…
756: Total offensive yards for Wisconsin against Bowling Green
Wisconsin’s offense had a field day against visiting Bowling Green. The Badgers were led by running back Melvin Gordon (more on him in a moment) as Wisconsin piled up 644 rushing yards. The total offensive yardage compiled by Wisconsin was more total offensive yards than six different FBS teams had compiled all season heading into the weekend (Vanderbilt, Eastern Michigan, North Texas, Wake Forest, Kent State and SMU).
19.5: Average rushing yards per carry for Melvin Gordon
If you forgot just how good Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon could be, his performance against Bowling Green should serve as a gentle reminder. Gordon rushed for career highs of 253 yards and five touchdowns, averaging an astounding 19.5 yards per rushing attempt. As a team, Wisconsin averaged 10.7 yards per rushing attempt against the defending MAC champions.
482: Combined rushing yards for Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah
With Wisconsin’s Gordon rushing for a career-high 253 yards against Bowling Green, the challenge was set for Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah to try and keep up. Abdullah may have come up shy of matching Gordon’s rushing total, but with Abdullah's 229 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Miami, the Big Ten’s top two running backs combined for 482 yards and seven touchdowns on Saturday. That combined rushing yardage total is more than 39 FBS schools have rushed for, and the combined touchdown total is more than 41 FBS schools have recorded this season.
5: Rushing touchdowns for Penn State against UMass
One part of Penn State’s game that has struggled to get on track in the first month of the season has been the running game. Against UMass the Nittany Lions finally found some traction. Entering the game Penn State had just two rushing touchdowns in the first three games of the season. Against UMass the Nittany Lions entered the end zone five times on the ground. Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak each had two, and Akeel Lynch added a fifth.
1: Third-down conversion allowed by Michigan State to Eastern Michigan
The game figured to be a mismatch between the Spartans and Eagles, but the complete domination by Michigan State at home was quite an exhibition in defensive supremacy. Michigan State allowed just one third-down conversion out of 13 to visiting Eastern Michigan. The Spartans allowed only 135 yards, most of that coming in garbage time with Michigan State blowing away the Eagles, 73-14. Michigan State controlled the football for 42 minutes, 41 seconds.
1: Third down conversion by Indiana in a win at Missouri
Everything Indiana did in winning at Missouri seemed to go against the grain for the Hoosiers. The defense actually came up with some key plays, and the Hoosiers managed to convert just one third down conversion out of 14. Normally winning on the road requires converting third downs but somehow Indiana managed to escape with converting just one (although Indiana was 2-fr-2 on fourth down conversion attempts).
3: Rushing yards allowed by Penn State against UMass
Penn State’s defense also had a relatively easy afternoon against an overpowered opponent at home. The Penn State defensive line never allowed the Minutemen to get going on the ground and the defense stuffed quarterback Blake Frohnapfel for a loss of 31 yards to limit the UMass ground game to just three yards.
5.6: Michigan quarterback Shane Morris’s QBR rating
If you thought all Michigan head coach Brady Hoke needed to do was change quarterbacks to find a spark on offense, perhaps you were wrong. Morris replaced starter Devin Gardner following a lengthy weather delay at home against Utah, with the Utes in full control. Morris had a very rough go of things, completing four of 13 passes for 42 yards and throwing one interception.
5: Number of first downs allowed and quarterbacks played by Michigan State
Going back to Michigan State’s pure dominance against Eastern Michigan, the Spartans only allowed five first downs to the Eagles. That number also matched the number of quarterbacks the Spartans used during the course of the game. Connor Cook received a nice early exit, giving way to Damion Terry and Tyler O’Connor. Eventually the Spartans were able to give walk-ons Tommy Vento and Paul Andrie some playing time as well.
No. 20 Ohio State enters 2014-15 without trusty point guard Aaron Craft. Thad Matta, as usual, has a plan with players like Shannon Scott and transfer Anthony Lee ready to take the next step for a Big Ten contender.
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To say that Thad Matta has given Ohio State 10 good years is to give short shrift to a Hall of Famer in waiting. He never gets labeled as the premier coach in the business, but the solid work and successful seasons roll on. Matta has racked up five Big Ten titles and a sparkling postseason record that includes four league tournament championships and a pair of appearances in the Final Four.
Still, OSU’s latest effort showed that even the elite programs are not immune to a subpar season.
The Buckeyes fell out of league contention and were dumped in their NCAA Tournament opener for just the third time in program history. Adding insult was the fact that the season-ending loss came at the hands of in-state foe Dayton.
Regaining some mojo won’t be easy with catalyst and defensive pest Aaron Craft among OSU’s three departed starters. Still, Matta knows how to reload and find lofty results.
“When I came here, our goal was to try to build a top-10 college basketball program — not that you’re going to win the thing every year but be in the hunt,” the coach says.
No. 20 Ohio State Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-10, 10-8 Big Ten
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAAs: 6
Coach: Thad Matta (275-83 at Ohio State, 121-53 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Fourth
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Amir Williams and Trey McDonald are seniors, but Matta has bolstered the interior both in the short term and for the future. Along with landing in-state prospect David Bell and accepting a transfer from former Virginia Tech center Trevor Thompson, the Buckeyes have welcomed senior Anthony Lee, a sturdy 6’9’’ graduate transfer from Temple who figures to be an immediate top option in the post.
Williams and McDonald were largely ineffective last season, combining for less than 10 points and eight rebounds per game. Lee should approach that productivity by himself. He averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds at Temple last season; the latter figure led the American Athletic Conference.
The 6’11” Thompson will have to sit out this season but the coaches are excited to have an athletic big man who showed flashes last season — like when he scored 15 points at Duke. He will have three years of eligibility.
Newcomer Keita Bates-Diop is a skilled combo forward who should help OSU on both ends of the court. The similarly built Marc Loving also shows promise, but he hit the freshman wall last season with eight scoreless games in February and March combined.
Despite his 6’4” frame, freshman Jae’Sean Tate is a junkyard dog capable of fitting in at forward. He’s a willing defender who has a knack for tracking down rebounds and loose balls.
The senior sendoff for Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. was both a joyous occasion and sad reminder that the program would have to move on without two proven warriors. They set the defensive tone and won at a high rate, even for the Matta era.
Fortunately, Shannon Scott will be comfortable taking over full-time duties at point guard, Sam Thompson could be ready for an all-league senior season on the wing, and the Buckeyes are blessed with two dynamic young talents at shooting guard in freshmen D’Angelo Russell and Kam Williams.
Scott’s numbers from last season, projected over 40 minutes, basically mirror Craft’s. Plus, he is a two-time member of the Big Ten All-Defensive Team. OSU’s leading returning scorer (7.9 ppg last season), Thompson also is a topflight defender and premier athlete. He isn’t likely to double his point production and replace LaQuinton Ross’ output, but he is capable of becoming a consistent double-figure scorer.
Williams was slowed by mononucleosis in preseason camp and ended up sitting out last season. Still, those who observed practice believe he could be an instant factor. Russell, meanwhile, may be the key to the entire campaign. The Louisville native won a national title at the prep level last spring and appears to be just the type of alpha male this team needs.
The Buckeyes are an interesting collection of talent. Matta’s roster is devoid of superstars — at least at the moment — but is deeper and more dangerous-looking than a year ago. Plus, Ohio State should be hungrier after a rare flameout in the NCAA Tournament. Thompson and Scott must embrace leadership, Lee needs to be a board-eater, and someone else, most likely Russell, has to show he can make winning plays. If it all falls in place, watch out.
Anthony Lee is a pest on the boards who often gets to the foul line because of his activity. He’s already slotted in at power forward. A smooth lefty, D’Angelo Russell just needs to show his skills translate. Keita Bates-Diop can shoot and pass effectively for his size and should fit OSU’s system. Jae’Sean Tate is a scrapper worthy of a role, while David Bell is a project who is likely to redshirt.
No. 21 Stanford enters 2014-15 after its first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years seasons, a run that resulted in an upset of Kansas and a trip to the Sweet 16. The Cardinal follows that with a veteran core and standout signing class that could keep Stanford in the NCAA conversation.
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The pressure is off coach Johnny Dawkins and his Cardinal, but the bar is now set higher. Dawkins’ future with Stanford was in question throughout his sixth season until a late run gave the program its first NCAA Tournament bid during his tenure. An upset victory over Kansas advanced the Cardinal into the Sweet 16 and gave fans a reason to expect an encore performance.
“It benefits us going forward because we’re returning three guys who were part of a really good run at the end of the year, guys who have accomplished things,” Dawkins says. “That’s a big part of us going forward.”
Stanford returns three starters, including senior guard Chasson Randle, but must find replacements at forward for NBA Draft picks Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis, who combined for 43 percent of the team’s rebounding total.
Even before being given a contract extension, Dawkins had landed a recruiting class that ranks among the nation’s top 20. That group will merge with the returnees to create a roster that should compete for a return trip to the NCAAs.
No. 21 Stanford Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-13, 10-8 Pac-12
Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16
Consecutive NCAAs: 1
Coach: Johnny Dawkins (117-87 at Stanford, 49-59 Pac-12)
Pac-12 Projection: Third
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Senior center Stefan Nastic returns after an unexpected late-season surge in which he averaged 11.7 points in three NCAA games and shot a stunning 87.1 percent (27-for-31) from the field over the team’s final seven outings. “He really had a presence for us, playing with passion and intensity,” Dawkins says. “He needs to keep developing offensively and stay out of foul trouble.” Nastic fouled out nine times last season.
Sophomore Rosco Allen, who played one game last season before being shelved by a stress fracture in his foot, will get the chance to win the job at small forward. “We missed his versatility,” Dawkins says. “He has a good feel for the game, the ability to pass the ball. He thinks the game very well.”
A key is freshman power forward Reid Travis, who had a minor arthroscopic procedure on his knee in July but is expected to be fully recovered well before practice begins. “He’s got a heck of a motor,” Dawkins says.
Randle and Anthony Brown give the Cardinal the Pac-12’s most experienced backcourt tandem. Randle has been a starter his entire career and last season produced 16 games of 20 or more points. Dawkins believes he “will be in the conversation” for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Stanford again figures to at least start the season without a true point guard, using Randle to bring the ball up court and then shifting him to the wing. “Chasson is a scorer by nature,” Dawkins says. “We don’t want to take that away from him. We’re going to tweak what we do based on our personnel.”
While Powell was Stanford’s top assist man last season, Dawkins is eager to see what he gets from freshman point Robert Cartwright. “We think he can come in and contribute,” the coach says. “He has the mindset for it.”
Brown, who rebounded nicely last season after missing the 2012-13 campaign with a hip injury, gives Stanford defensive length and a perimeter scoring threat from the wing. He averaged just 6.5 points over the final four games, but Dawkins likes his upside. “He’s had moments where he’s as good as any player at his position in the country,” Dawkins says. “His growth will be in realizing how good he can be and be that player every game.”
Sophomore Marcus Allen (twin of teammate Malcolm but unrelated to Rosco Allen), had a solid freshman campaign as a combo guard and should play an elevated role.
Dawkins has much to replace with the departures of Powell and Huestis, but he has a nice returning nucleus, led by Randle, whose confidence should be at a peak entering the season. Stanford’s strong recruiting class will have to contribute immediately, but there is reason for optimism.
“I think we’re a team that can develop and learn the things we have to do,” says Dawkins, alluding to defense and rebounding in particular. “If we can shore those areas up, I think we can be a tournament-caliber team.”
Returning to the NCAA Tournament is not a make-or-break proposition for Dawkins and his team. But it’s now the expectation, and the Cardinal have enough parts to make a legitimate run at an upper-division Pac-12 finish and another NCAA bid.
Power forward Reid Travis, a McDonald’s All-American, is physically mature enough at 6-8, 240 pounds to immediately step into the lineup. Johnny Dawkins says Travis’ offensive game is more developed at the same stage than former Cardinal star Mark Madsen. Robert Cartwright, the team’s only true point guard, will get the chance to play early. Forward Michael Humphrey needs to add strength to his length.
The reality in the NFL is that teams generally can’t afford slow starts. Unlike in other sports, there just aren’t enough games to absorb an early stumble. The percentage of teams that lose their opener and go on to make the playoffs is low. It’s exponentially lower for 0-2 teams, and the odds are virtually non-existent at 0-3.
So there are seven teams, all 0-2, on the dangerous hot seat as they head into a “must-win” Week 3 showdown against somebody. Most of them probably already have no shot at making the playoffs. Anyone that loses next week definitely won’t.
So of the seven two-time losers, who has the best shot at pulling off a stunning turnaround and salvaging their season? Here’s a look at their chances in order of most likely to save their season all the way down to most likely to already be done:
New Orleans Saints (Next up: vs. Minnesota Vikings) – They were victimized by two surprising collapses and some shockingly bad performances by their once-respected defense. But it’s important to remember that both their first two losses were on the road (at Atlanta, at Cleveland). They still have the ability to score in bunches (they are 2nd in the NFL with 29 points per game and 3rd with 434.5 yards) and they still have all-pro quarterback Drew Brees and an assortment of weapons. Their return to the Superdome to face a Vikings team reeling from the Adrian Peterson mess should be one of the easiest bets of the year, and don’t be surprised if the Saints take off from there.
Indianapolis Colts (Next up: at Jacksonville Jaguars) – Whom did the Colts anger in the NFL office that they drew an opening game at Denver and a Week 2 game against the Philadelphia Eagles? That immediately put their thin defense, their powerful offense, and their come-from-behind abilities to the test. They nearly did pull things out in Denver, falling by a touchdown, and their defense coughed up the game against the Eagles. The Jaguars, Ravens and Texans are next, which should give Andrew Luck and his team a chance to get right back on track.
New York Giants (Next up: vs. Houston Texans) – They have looked absolutely terrible in the first two games, on offense and on defense. But here’s the thing: They spent $116 million in the offseason to improve the roster and they brought in a whole new offensive coaching staff. They are destined to be better than they were last year, but putting all the pieces together will take time. They don’t have that, of course, but they’ll buy themselves some if they can beat the Texans at home on Sunday. Eli Manning and the offense showed signs of life in a loss to Arizona, and in theory it will only get better from there.
Kansas City Chiefs (Next up: at Miami Dolphins) – Their offensive line has been terrible and their already shaky offense has paid the price, and that was before the loss of running back Jamaal Charles. And really, this was coming last season when the Chiefs faded as bad as anyone down the stretch. The problem now is the schedule does them no favors. The Dolphins look pretty good, they play the Patriots, then at San Francisco, then at San Diego. They may be the best of the remaining 0-2 teams, but forget about them turning this around during a stretch like that.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Next up: at Atlanta Falcons) – You were expecting more out of a Josh McCown led offense on a team where Jonathan Martin gets just nine carries in two games. Lovie Smith took over a rebuilding project in Tampa and it’s obviously going to take some time. Last week’s game against St. Louis was his best opportunity to get an early win. Now the Bucs hit the road for a three-game trip against the Falcons, Steelers and Saints? They just don’t have the horses on either side of the ball to keep up.
Oakland Raiders (Next up: at New England Patriots) – They had to know there were always going to be growing pains the moment they made a late switch to rookie quarterback Derek Carr. At that moment, the Raiders season ceased being about this year and started focusing on 2015. And back-to-back losses to two beatable opponents – the Jets and Texans – only cemented that fact. It won’t get any easier in future weeks with the Patriots, Dolphins, Chargers and Cardinals up next in order. And don’t forget they still have a home-and-away looming with the Denver Broncos, too.
Jacksonville Jaguars (Next up: vs. Indianapolis Colts) - There was a moment in their opener, when they led 17-0 at halftime against the Philadelphia Eagles, where it looked like everyone was wrong about the Jaguars and they had finally turned their fortunes around. In the six quarters since then, though, they were outscored by the Eagles and Washington Redskins 75-10. They stink on defense. They stink on offense. And they were blown out by two teams in a division (the NFC East) that might end up stinking too. Their 0-2 start could turn into 0-6 or worse in a blink of an eye. They should think about turning the show over to rookie quarterback Blake Bortles so they can focus on their future, because at this point it sure looks like they’ll be a contender again for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
No. 22 Syracuse moves into 2014-15 with a freshman point guard and a handful of role players expected to take starring roles. Jim Boeheim has major personnel challenges, but he’s rebuilt a roster in short order before.
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Jim Boeheim has been through this before. Of course, a coach who’s been around for 38 years has probably experienced just about all there is in college basketball.
Boeheim is used to players leaving his program early. And over the years, the veteran coach has done a remarkable job of guiding his teams to successful seasons following the loss of a star player. The year after Pearl Washington left, Syracuse went to the NCAA championship game. Following Billy Owens’ departure, Syracuse won 22 games and went back to the NCAA Tournament. After Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship, Syracuse went to the Sweet 16 the next season.
In recent years, Boeheim has seen Donté Greene, Jonny Flynn, Dion Waiters, Fab Melo and Michael Carter-Williams leave school early for the NBA. In the next season, Syracuse has never failed to reach the NCAA Tournament.
So here are Syracuse and Boeheim again. In this case, Boeheim is having to deal with the loss of three starters from last year’s team that went 28–6 overall after winning its first 25 games. The loss of C.J. Fair, who led the Orange in scoring as a senior, was expected. Then Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant decided to cut their college careers short, leaving Boeheim with yet another rebuilding job.
No. 22 Syracuse Facts & Figures
Last season: 28-6, 14-4 ACC
Postseason: NCAA round of 32
Consecutive NCAAs: 6
Coach: Jim Boeheim (948-319 at Syracuse, 14-4 ACC)
ACC Projection: Fifth
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Syracuse struggled to score in 2013-14. The Orange averaged just 68 points per game, their lowest output since the 1962-63 season. And Syracuse’s most consistent scoring came from a frontcourt that’s now depleted.
Fair averaged a team-high 16.5 points per game. Grant chipped in with 12.1 points. The only returning starter is senior center Rakeem Christmas, who posted 5.8 points and 5.1 rebounds.
“Rak’s getting better,” Boeheim says. “He’s a late-developing big guy. I think he’s figured it out. He’ll have a good year.”
DaJuan Coleman, who started 12 games last year, is coming off his second knee surgery in as many seasons, and Boeheim doesn’t expect him to return to the court until October at the earliest.
That leaves Boeheim with a frontcourt that’s both young and thin. He’ll look to sophomores Tyler Roberson and B.J. Johnson along with incoming freshman Chris McCullough. Chino Obokoh, a 6-10 center, redshirted last season and could provide some depth this year.
Don’t be surprised if Michael Gbinije, a 6-7 combo guard, sees some time at small forward due to the Orange’s lack of depth up front.
Syracuse’s backcourt situation is a little steadier than its frontcourt, but there is still one gaping hole to fill. Ennis played superbly as a freshman last year. He proved to be the ultimate playmaker, doling out 5.5 assists per game against just 1.7 turnovers. Kaleb Joseph, a 6-2 freshman, will be the fourth starting point guard in as many years for Syracuse. He’s a terrific athlete, but will he have the poise and maturity that enabled Ennis to handle the position as a freshman?
Trevor Cooney, a 6-4 junior, is coming off an up-and-down season, which was his first as a starter. Through SU’s first 22 games, Cooney was making 44 percent of his 3-point attempts, but he slumped in the final third of the season. He finished the year at 37.5 percent from the arc. Gbinije, a former top-40 national recruit, played both guard positions last year and will again in 2014-15. After shaking off the rust of the redshirt year taken after his transfer from Duke, Gbinije should provide more consistent contributions as a junior.
Ron Patterson, a 6-2 guard, didn’t see any meaningful minutes as a freshman. This could be a make or break year for the Indiana native.
This could be one of Boeheim’s biggest challenges in years. When previously facing major personnel losses, Boeheim has had a young player like Sherman Douglas, Wes Johnson, Carter-Williams or Fair waiting in the wings.
For this year’s Orange to earn an NCAA Tournament berth for the 32nd time in Boeheim’s 39 years, Christmas must emerge as a scoring option down low, Roberson will have to take a big jump as a sophomore, and McCullough and Joseph — the two true freshmen — will have to play like upperclassmen.
Syracuse brings in just two freshmen, but in all likelihood, both will start for the Orange this season. Kaleb Joseph figures to step into the starting point guard role. Chris McCullough is the prototypical Syracuse forward. He’s long and lean. McCullough averaged 22 points and 9.0 rebounds per game at IMG Academy last year.
Michigan continues our top 25 countdown at No. 23 as the Wolverines look to replace Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and more. Michigan has bounced back quickly before under John Beilein. Will that trend continue in 2014-15?
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All those years wandering the post-Fab Five desert are over in Ann Arbor, and it’s not a mirage.
Coming off a 2013 Final Four appearance that most credited to National Player of the Year Trey Burke and sidekick Tim Hardaway Jr., coach John Beilein proved his program had staying power last year. With Burke and Hardaway departed, he took his youth-laden Wolverines, featuring one senior and one junior, to a Big Ten regular-season championship and an Elite Eight appearance.
Now Beilein, a 61-year-old entering his eighth season at Michigan, gets to rebuild all over again. Three more Wolverines — Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary — bolted for the 2014 NBA Draft after two seasons, leaving U-M again as one of the youngest teams in the country.
No. 23 Michigan Facts & Figures
Last season: 28-9, 15-3 Big Ten
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Consecutive NCAAs: 4
Coach: John Beilein (150-94 at Michigan, 70-56 Big Ten)
Big Ten Projection: Fifth
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
The loss of McGary still stings, but the enigmatic forward played only eight games last season due to injury and was facing a yearlong ban from NCAA play due to a failed drug test. What in fact stings worse is a complete overhaul on the Michigan frontcourt.
Beilein plays only one true post player in his famed two-guard offense. That spot was split last year between two veterans who have also departed, Jordan Morgan (graduation) and Jon Horford (transfer to Florida).
What’s left is 6-10 redshirt freshman Mark Donnal, an inside-outside forward; junior forward Max Bielfeldt, a burly 6-7 career reserve; and Ricky Doyle, a 6-9 freshman. Donnal drew strong reviews for his practice play last season and is expected to earn a starting role and be the pick man in U-M’s ball-screen offense. He can step out and hit the 3, but questions remain whether he can handle the rigors of post play in the Big Ten.
Two additional freshmen, Kameron Chatman and D.J. Wilson, are likely to play offensively as wings but defend the 4 spot on the other end of the floor. Chatman, at 6-8, boasts a methodical offensive game and a high skill set. Wilson, a wiry 6-8 forward, is athletic but needs development.
Of them, only Bielfeldt has appeared in a collegiate game.
Related: Caris LeVert joins the Athlon Sports All-Junior Team
As it always has under Beilein, Michigan’s success will hinge on its guards. The 2014-15 Wolverines will go as far as the trio of Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin takes them.
LeVert is Michigan’s leading returner in points (12.9 ppg), rebounds (4.3 rpg) and assists (2.9 apg). Much of Beilein’s offense will operate through the 6-6 junior, who emerged from relative obscurity to earn All-Big Ten honors last year. Before leaving U-M as a lottery pick, Stauskas pointed out: “Caris is ready to blow up a little bit. I think Caris is ready to make that jump to a star player.”
The hope is that Walton and Irvin can take similar freshman-to-sophomore leaps seen from LeVert and Stauskas. Walton is a true point guard but will look to increase his scoring and is capable of doing so. Irvin, a 42.5 percent 3-point shooter, is a gifted 6-6 scorer needing to prove he can be versatile offensively and add rebounding on both ends.
Junior point guard Spike Albrecht returns as a steadying force in the backcourt and a threat from 3-point distance. Freshmen Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins, a pair of wings who signed late in the spring, add depth and will look to crack the rotation.
With every starting player from its 2013 Final Four appearance having entered the NBA early, Michigan is a clean slate.
From last year’s roster, Stauskas, Robinson, Morgan and Horford accounted for 54.5 percent of the team’s total points, 55.8 percent of its made field goals and 52.4 percent of its rebounds.
That’s gone, but the expectations aren’t. Beilein’s system has proven resilient and is bolstered by a keen eye on the recruiting trail. Having already rebuilt Michigan, Beilein says this team “isn’t starting over.”
“I think the foundation is there and now we have to start putting the bricks back in,” he adds.
Starting in the backcourt, Michigan has the talent to return to the NCAA Tournament and potentially compete for a top-three Big Ten finish. Youth, scoring options and questions surrounding rebounding and interior defense, though, leave plenty of uncertainty.
Six of Michigan’s 12 scholarship players are first-year freshmen, while a seventh belongs to redshirt frosh Mark Donnal, a potential starter. Kameron Chatman, a top-50 recruit, should make an immediate impact. D.J. Wilson and Ricky Doyle add much needed length. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins, (Johnny’s son) were late signees and add depth.
Earlier this year, the San Francisco 49ers moved out of their old digs at Candlestick Park and into their new home, the $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium. The Santa Clara, Calif., venue, which seats approximately 68,500, is more than just a place to catch a game; it’s a cathedral to football and an homage to the Silicon Valley. And it’s blowing fans’ minds. Here’s why:
1. It's Wired!
Befitting a stadium in the heart of the Silicon Valley, you're never more than 10 feet away from a wireless hotspot. Seventy miles of Wi-Fi specific cable offer 40GB/s of bandwidth (40 times more than any other stadium). Which is good, because…
2…You’re Plugged In
The 49ers’ new app lets you order food for pickup or have it delivered to your seat (for an extra $5), gives you turn-by-turn directions to locations like bathrooms and parking areas, and allows access to real-time instant replays. Speaking of which…
3. Comprehensive Instant Replay
Thirteen stadium cameras and a TV crew of 40-plus will be filming the game, providing at least six replay angles of every play, making attendees the most informed armchair referee in the league.
4. It's Green (figuratively)
Levi’s Stadium’s 38,000 square feet of solar panels soak up the sun and keep the stadium running on its own electricity.
5. It’s Green (literally)
The natural grass stadium has a 27,000-square-foot garden on the roof of the suite tower is made up of local plants that require minimal water. It soaks up heat, minimizes the HVAC cooling requirements, and grows herbs for the concession stands.
6. Eat Up!
Want a burger? How about a jalapeno cheddar kielbasa? The fare at Levi’s Stadium befits the area’s foodie atmosphere. Vegan franks, curry stations, crepe desserts and Chef Michael Mina’s onsite Bourbon Steak and Pub restaurant give “stadium food” a whole new meaning. There’s even an $18 Double Barrel Wagyu topped with pork chicharrones that may be the craziest hot dog in sports.
7. Pedestrian Expressways
They've organized the pedestrian walkways to be more efficient than Candlestick: the food lines don't intersect with the bathroom lines anymore, and they've created lanes on the exterior of the stadium so you don't have to wade through the food lines to get from one end of the stadium to the other.
8. It’s Drought-Friendly
All of the plumbing fixtures are low flow, almost twice as efficient than building code requirements, and 85 percent of the water used is recycled water provided by the city.
9. It's LOUD!
The lower bowl has over 45,000 seats (one of the largest in the NFL), and the glass-fronted box seats on the West side will provide a reverberating effect. The result could spell an end to Seattle’s title as the NFL’s loudest stadium.
As college football evolves into the playoff era, the Legends Poll is changing with it. Each week the Legends Poll will release its Top 8 teams, which its panel of voters believe will inevitably be the next step in the evolution of the playoffs.
And in the first release of the 2014 season, the SEC West dominated the rankings, making up half of the Top 8.
Florida State opened up where it left off last season at No. 1, and will face its first true test against Clemson at home this coming weekend.
Second-ranked Oregon has impressed the Legends Poll panel with its tough early slate of games — knocking off Michigan State in week two. No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Oklahoma rounded out the Top 4.
Auburn debuted at No. 5, followed by Texas A&M, Baylor, and LSU to round out the Top 8.
What looked like a lackluster slate of games this past Saturday turned out to be anything but.
Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks pulled out an upset victory over Georgia, considered a heavy favorite going in to win the SEC East, 38-35. The loss kept Georgia out of the top 8.
USC and Virginia Tech had come off an emotional high after knocking off Stanford and Ohio State, respectively just a week ago. But Boston College stunned USC 37-31 and East Carolina upset Virginia Tech 28-21.
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
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