Articles By David Fox

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No one had to wait until Dec. 28 to see the 2013-14 didn’t really go as anyone expected.

By then, Kansas had already lost three times, Duke twice and North Carolina had proven itself as the most unpredictable team in the country.

But Dec. 28 was the day Kentucky and Louisville — the last two national champions and preseason top two teams — met. At that point, both teams were still seeking their best win of the season.

Kentucky took the in-state bragging rights and picked up the key win. In recent weeks, the Wildcats have started to look a little more like the team Big Blue Nation envisioned this season. Playing that SEC schedule helps, of course.

Louisville, though, makes our list of the most disappointing teams of the season so far. Kansas, despite four non-conference losses, has started to move off that list as its freshmen have become accustomed to the college game.

Granted, Louisville and others on this list may follow the trajectory of Kansas and turn early setbacks into second-half rebounds, but some teams' seasons may be too far gone to hope for an NCAA Tournament bid.

Related: Midseason Coaches of the Year

College Basketball’s Midseason Disappointments

Boston College
This seemed to be the key season for Steve Donahue at Boston College. Donahue needed eight seasons to get Cornell to its first NCAA Tournament of his tenure, but he entered his fourth at BC with hopes of breaking through. With Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson returning from a team that went 7-11 in the ACC this was supposed to be the season BC could make a postseason push. Those hopes were dashed before Thanksgiving as the Eagles opened 1-4 with losses to Providence, UMass and UConn. At 5-12 overall and 1-3 in the ACC, Boston College probably won’t play in any postseason.

BYU
In the Athlon Sports preseason annual, we projected BYU to reach the NIT, so it’s not a huge surprise for the Cougars to be in an 11-7 predicament. The Cougars returned high-scoring guard Tyler Haws while adding sophomore Kyle Collinsworth and highly touted freshman Eric Mika to the roster, so BYU was still worth keeping an eye on early. Instead, BYU has struggled away from Provo, including an 0-2 start in West Coast Conference play with losses to Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine. BYU defeated defeated both on return trips to the Marriott Center, but a four-game road losing streak (including Utah and Oregon) isn’t a good look.

Duke
The Blue Devils may well be the No. 2 team in the ACC, but the season should still be tough to swallow for a team that was in the preseason top 10. Duke defeated Virginia 69-65 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday, but the overall trend is still troubling. A team that started in the preseason top three is in danger of being unranked thanks to difficulties on the defensive end. The Blue Devils rank 12th in the ACC in points per possession at 101 points per 100 possessions. Freshman Jabari Parker and transfer Rodney Hood have shown moments of brilliance, but they’re still learning to play together and with point guard Quinn Cook. Meanwhile, Rasheed Sulaimon has been invisible for parts of the season. For a team with national title aspirations, a 13-4 record with ACC losses to Notre Dame and Clemson are cause for concern.

Louisville
Maybe calling Louisville a disappointment is an overreaction for a 14-3 team, but the Cardinals had to wait until Jan. 12 to get their biggest win of the season, a victory over SMU at that. The Cardinals played a lackluster non-conference schedule and lost their biggest games to North Carolina, Memphis and Kentucky, all before dismissing Chane Behanan. That said, Rick Pitino has had teams that played their best basketball in March. If Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock continue to take the pressure of Russ Smith and Chris Jones, Louisville could make a deep NCAA Tournament run.

Marquette
The trouble started with an embarrassing 52-35 loss on the road to Ohio State on Nov. 16. The offense has been the worst of the Buzz Williams era, ranking outside of the top 100 in offensive efficiency on KenPom.com. Marquette hasn’t been helped by losing two key newcomers in Duane Wilson, who is going to redshirt with a leg injury, and junior college transfer Jameel McKay, who transferred to Iowa State without playing a game. The preseason Big East favorites are 10-7 and fighting for an NCAA berth.

Related: Midseason All-America teams

Michigan
Maybe a team losing a National Player of the Year who happened to be a point guard shouldn’t have be ranked in the top 12 in the first place. Especially when Trey Burke’s replacement was a freshman. Athlon’s preseason ranking for the Wolverines was a show of faith in John Beilein, who can develop point guards, and Michigan's returning talents like Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. Robinson has improved in recent games, but McGary is out for the remainder of the season following back surgery. At 11-4 and 3-0 in the Big Ten, Michigan may still be an NCAA Tournament team, but another deep run seems unlikely.

North Carolina
Through three ACC games, the Tar Heels’ season crossed the line from fascinatingly inconsistent to just bad. The Heels are 0-3, including losses to Syracuse and Miami, and they’re now a month removed from their last big win over Kentucky. North Carolina can win when Marcus Paige is making shots, but Pagie is 12 of 43 from the floor in three conference games. A year after being a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, North Carolina may need to be a few games over .500 in the ACC to hit that mark this season.

St. John’s
A team with four top-100 players opened Big East play with three consecutive losses to go with a 9-3 mark during the non-conference schedule. Granted, two of those losses were to Wisconsin and Syracuse, but St. John’s best wins of the season came against Columbia and Georgia Tech. For a team with an NCAA-caliber roster, those aren’t NCAA-caliber results.

SEC Depth
The SEC has Kentucky and Florida and few other certainties. Teams like LSU and Tennessee were supposed to make NCAA Tournament runs this season, but that prospect is looking iffy. Even Missouri deserves skepticism after a loss Georgia in overtime last week. LSU added two freshmen, Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin, to a roster that already includes forward Johnny O’Bryant, but the Tigers are 11 days removed from a home loss to Rhode Island. Tennessee just dropped a home game to Texas A&M. And Ole Miss is still a Marshall Henderson 3-point-fest, just with a lesser supporting cast.

UNLV
The Runnin’ Rebels lost Anthony Bennett, Anthony Marshall, Mike Moser and Katin Reinhardt before the season, but UNLV still had enough returning to finish with a nice record in a weakened Mountain West. That seems in doubt after UNLV dropped back-to-back home games to Air Force and Nevada. A season that features no top 100 wins now has two bad losses despite a roster that features proven players like Khem Birch and Bryce DeJean-Jones.

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Post date: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - 07:00
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The way the story of the 2013-14 season has been told, a casual fan might think the entirety of the Midseason All-America team would be made up of freshman.

Certainly, the rookies were a key storyline during the preseason and a conversation only amplified when Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle all excelled in the first week of the season.

Indeed, all three freshmen are on our All-America teams at the midpoint, along with Arizona’s Aaron Gordon.

Some reliable veterans, though, are doing just as much to shape the season from Stillwater to Omaha to Syracuse.

This week marks the midpoint between the first college basketball games of the season and Selection Sunday, and Athlon Sports will recap all the major developments of the season this week in the College Basketball Midseason Report.

Related: Midseason Coaches of the Year

College Basketball Midseason All-America Team

First Team

G Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
The numbers: 17.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.1 apg
Smart slumped a bit in late December and early January, weeks after a dominant 39-point, five-steal performance in a rout of Memphis on Nov. 19. Smart, though, is showing signs of returning to his All-America form in the last two games with 24 points, 11 rebounds and five assists against Texas and 22 points, 13 rebounds and rive assists against West Virginia.

G DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
The numbers:
16.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 5.9 apg
The Marshall transfer is a major reason Iowa State started the season with 14 consecutive wins. But the talent Iowa State has around him also improved his output since playing in Huntington — his shooting percentage (53.2 percent) more than 10 percentage points higher than his career-best at Marshall as a freshman. In his return from an nakle injury, Kane scored 21 points and added eight rebounds Monday in a loss to Kansas.

F Jabari Parker, Duke
The numbers: 18.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.5 apg
His production has slipped in recent games, particularly in the defensive end when Mike Krzyzewski bench him in the second half against Notre Dame. But we can’t forget his torrid pace to start the season. Parker is still tied for second in the ACC in scoring and sixth in rebounding.

F Doug McDermott, Creighton
The numbers: 25 ppg, 7.3 rpg
Shoulder sprain or no shoulder sprain, McDermott is doing to the Big East what he did to the Missouri Valley. The senior has two 30-point games in four conference games and seven overall this season, including 30 against San Diego State.

F C.J. Fair, Syracuse
The numbers:
17.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg
The play of floor general Tyler Ennis deserves some of the credit for Syracuse’s undefeated start, but don’t lose sight of the veteran who is setting a career high with 17.4 points.

Second Team

All-Transfer Team
G DeAndre Kane, Iowa State (Marshall)
G Jordan Clarkson, Missouri (Tulsa)
F Rodney Hood, Duke (Mississippi State)
F Joseph Young, Oregon (Houston)
F Josh Davis, San Diego State (Tulane)
G Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
The numbers:
16.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 6 apg
The Huskies’ leader in points, rebounds and assists is on the short list of the most valuable players in the country.

G Nick Johnson, Arizona
The numbers:
16.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg
The all-around senior holds everything together for the undefeated Wildcats. Also scored 22 in a tough road win over UCLA last week.

F Casey Prather, Florida
The numbers:
17 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.1 apg
Former role player has been a revelation this season for the Gators even though he’s been injured in recent games.

F Julius Randle, Kentucky
The numbers:
16.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg
The rest of the Wildcats’ talented roster is finally giving opponents more to think about than stopping Randle down low.

F Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
The numbers:
14.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg
The sophomore followed up a promising freshman season by leading the undefeated Badgers in scoring and rebounding.

Related: Midseason Coaches of the Year

Third Team

G Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
The numbers
: 11.6 ppg, 5.7 apg
Rookie point guard averages an outstanding 4.1 assists for every turnover.

G Keith Appling, Michigan State
The numbers:
16.4 ppg, 4.6 apg
The Spartans have frustrated Tom Izzo but they’re still 4-0 in Big Ten play behind Appling’s 18 ppg in conference play.

F Aaron Gordon, Arizona
The numbers:
12.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg
Standout defender has been key cog for undefeated Wildcats.

F T.J. Warren, NC State
The numbers:
22.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg
The ACC’s leader in scoring and offensive rebounding is a one-man show for the Wolfpack.

F Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
The numbers:
15.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg
The freshman leads the Jayhawks in scoring and looks like he’s about to take charge.

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The Jan. 11-12 weekend in college basketball may have been the most important to date during the season so far, or at least since November.

The ranks of the undefeated dropped by one with Iowa State’s loss Saturday to Oklahoma. That leaves only Arizona, Syracuse, Wisconsin and Wichita State among the unbeaten, though the Shockers had a close call of their own Saturday.

The Cyclones, though, weren't alone with an upsetting loss. Five of the top 10 teams lost at least one game last week. Ohio State started the week 15-0 and finished 15-2. But the bigger news will be on the injury front for point guards. DeAndre Kane may return in time for Kansas tonight, but the outlook isn’t so optimistic for Spencer Dinwiddie at Colorado.

Elsewhere, Tobacco Road has a share of problems it hasn’t had for a long time. Duke and North Carolina are a combined 1-5 in the ACC this season as North Carolina can’t make a shot and Duke can’t seem to stop them.

If you missed anything during the college basketball weekend, here’s what you need to know.

The 10 Most Important Things in College Basketball: Jan. 13

1. Iowa State lost twice Saturday
The Cyclones had a chance to avoid their first loss of the season despite trailing by as much as 13 in the second half before a few disastrous possessions allowed the Sooners’ to hold for an 87-82 win. The biggest news, though, was a sprained ankle to star point guard DeAndre Kane in the final minutes. Teammates carried him to the bench, and the Cyclones have precious little time to wait for him to return to full strength. Kane may be able to play against Kansas, but it won’t be comfortable. After hosting the Jayhawks, Iowa State faces Texas, Kansas State, Kansas again, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State all before Feb. 8. Kane’s replacement would be Monte Morris, a freshman who has a 44-to-9 assist-to-turnover ratio in 21.7 minutes per game. He’s capable, but he could get exposed in extended duty against the deeper-than-expected Big 12.

2. Colorado may have sustained the biggest loss of the weekend
The Buffaloes’ hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season hang in the balance as Colorado waits for the results of an MRI on guard Spencer Dinwiddie after he sustained a knee injury in a 71-54 loss to Washington. Tad Boyle’s initial reaction to the injury to his to player was not encouraging. “My gut says it’s not good, but we’ll see,” Boyle told reporters. In the next two weeks, Colorado plays host to UCLA and USC before visiting Arizona and Arizona State.

3. Reversing fortunes in the Big Ten
After narrow losses to Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin away from Iowa City, Iowa still needed a big-time win to legitimize the Hawkeyes’ best season since 2005-06. Iowa got it in an 84-74 win over Ohio State in Columbus, signaling Iowa’s ability to contend for the Big Ten title. Iowa trailed by as much as nine in the second half but quickly rallied to tie and then closed out the game by making 10 of 12 free throws down the stretch. Meanwhile, Ohio State has lost two in a row in the Big Ten, one after a furious second-half rally at Michigan State and the latest at home to Iowa. The Buckeyes have a four-game stretch against Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois and Penn State to recover before facing Wisconsin and Iowa in back-to-back games to start February.

Related: Iowa's Roy Devyn Marble is Athlon's National Player of the Week

4. Problems at _uke
As in no D. Cheap shot aside, Duke is having a miserable defensive season by Blue Devils standards. That much was exposed even more in a 72-59 loss at Clemson on Saturday — The Tigers, incidentally, are surprise NCAA Tournament contenders thanks to one of the nation’s best defensive teams. Clemson shot 47.2 percent against Duke and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds. Duke’s defensive efficiency rating and rank (96th nationally) on KenPom.com is the worst going back to 2003. If opponents continue to shoot 44.9 percent from the floor against Duke, it will be the worst field goal percentage defense for the Blue Devils since allowing opponents to shoot 46.7 percent in 1991-92. Duke won the national title that season, but that was a different era. The Blue Devils are 1-2 in the league so far.

Related: Boeheim is one of our midseason coaches of the year

5. Crisis time in Chapel Hill
Not many teams, if any, are going to win in the Carrier Dome this season, so a 57-45 loss to Syracuse on its face isn’t a major issue. Compounding that with losses to Wake Forest and Miami, though, is a problem. North Carolina is 0-3 in the ACC for the first time since 1996-97 and is starting to look like a team that has more bad losses ahead of it than out-of-nowhere wins. Two keys for North Carolina to stay in NCAA contention: Marcus Paige needs to make shots and the Heels need to get the 3-point line under control. Paige is shooting 46.2 percent from the floor in wins and 34.1 percent in losses. North Carolina has to take fewer 3s. The Tar Heels average 14.3 shots from 3 in losses (at a 24.4 percent clip) and 9.4 3-point attempts in wins (at a 36.2 percent rate).

Most important games this week
Virginia at Duke (Monday)
Kansas at Iowa State (Monday)
Wisconsin at Indiana (Tuesday)

Oklahoma at Kansas State (Tuesday)
Washington at Cal (Wednesday)
UCLA at Colorado (Thursday)
Ohio State at Minnesota (Thursday)
6. Wichita State’s scare
Wichita State remained among the undefeated, but the Shockers faced their toughest test of the season on the road against Missouri State. A disastrous first half yielded eight turnovers and eight field goals (on 22 attempts). Wichita State rallied from an 18-point deficit to force overtime on the way to a 72-69 win, but the game was a clear signal that road wins in the Missouri Valley won’t be easy.

7. What happened to Oregon?
Two weeks ago, Oregon was undefeated and ranked in the top 10. Now, the Ducks are one overtime victory over Utah away from being winless in the Pac-12. The Ducks have been a mess in the defensive end since conference play began, contributing to losses to Colorado on the road and Cal and Stanford at home. Pac-12 opponents are shooting 49.6 percent against the Ducks while Oregon has the 10th-best defensive rebound rate in the league since Pac-12 play began.

8. McDermott is just fine
Creighton’s player of the year contender Doug McDermott suffered a shoulder sprain a week ago, but you couldn’t tell by his performance against Xavier. McDermott went 13 of 24 from the floor for 35 points in a 95-89 win. If the Bluejays can beat Providence and Butler, Creighton and Villanova could both be undefeated in league play when they meet in Philadelphia on Jan. 20.

9. Saint Louis is darn good
Is it time to declare Saint Louis the Atlantic 10 favorite? Seems that way after the Billikens defeated Dayton 67-59 on the road Saturday. The Flyers shot only 19 of 62 from the floor, including 4 of 14 from 3-point range against Saint Louis. The Billikens don’t have a slew of great wins (Dayton and Indiana State are the best right now), but Saint Louis’ only losses are by single digits to undefeated Wisconsin and Wichita State.

10. Wayne Selden’s emergence
Kansas has been waiting all season for its freshmen to play with an edge. The Jayhawks finally got it this weekend, not from Andrew Wiggins or Joel Embiid, but from Wayne Selden. A McDonald’s All-American and a five-star recruit, Selden could only be overlooked on a freshman class of this caliber. The last two games, though, have been his best of the season. He scored 24 in a road win over Oklahoma and 24 against a hot Kansas State team while shooting 16 of 27 for the week.

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If there could be a knock on a team that was already well on its way to its best season since 2005-06, it was that Iowa lacked two things: A win over a major contender and a statement road win.

Iowa claimed both Sunday.

Before facing Ohio State in Columbus, Iowa’s best wins were over Xavier and Notre Dame. Fine wins, but the Hawkeyes tantalized in close calls with Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin.

Behind the play of Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa defeated Ohio State 84-74 in Columbus on Sunday to give the Hawkeyes the signature win of their best season since the Steve Alford era.

"It was a battle of defenses," said Marble, the Athlon Sports National Player of the Week. "We scored a lot of points. They don't usually give up 84. That goes to show the character of our team to play our style of play, listen to our coaches and follow the game plan."

Athlon Sports National College Basketball Awards: Jan. 13

National Player of the Week: Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
Marble led the way in the win at Ohio State with 22 points on 8 of 11 shots from the field. Marble came up with clutch plays throughout the game, including a steal that set up an Aaron White fast break to put Iowa up by 5 in the final four minutes. Marble added four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and three steals against the Buckeyes. In a 93-67 rout of Northwestern earlier in the week, Marble scored 15 points with six assists and four steals.

National Freshman of the Week: Wayne Selden, Kansas
Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid so far have received all NBA Draft talk, but at least for a week, Selden was Kansas’ top freshman. Selden broke out for a pair of 20-point games against potential NCAA Tournament teams. Selden scored 20 points in an 86-60 win over Kansas State on Saturday and 24 in a 90-83 road win over Oklahoma on Wednesday. Selden shot 16 of 27 from the field and 8 of 15 from 3-point range this week.

Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: C.J. Wilcox, Washington
Wilcox scored a season-high 31 points (on 12-of-18 shooting) as Washington improved to 3–1 in the Pac-12 with an impressive 71–54 win over Colorado. Wilcox, a senior guard, is second in the league in scoring with a 19.8-point scoring average. He also leads the Pac-12 with 3.1 made 3-point field goals per game.

Other Primetime Players this Week

C.J. Fair, Syracuse
Fair scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds while playing all 40 minutes as Syracuse — one of four undefeated teams in the nation — beat North Carolina 57–45 at the Carrier Dome. Fair, a 6-foot-8 senior forward, is averaging 17.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in the Orange’s three ACC games.

Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida
Making just his second start of the season, Finney-Smith scored a career-high 22 points and added 15 rebounds to help Florida escape Fayetteville with an 84–82 overtime win over Arkansas. A transfer from Virginia Tech, Finney-Smith was in the starting lineup because Casey Prather, the Gators’ leading scorer, was out with a bone bruise in his right knee.

Shaq Goodwin, Memphis
Memphis rebounded from a surprising loss at home to Cincinnati in its American Athletic Conference debut by recording wins at Louisville and vs. Temple last week. Goodwin, a 6-9 forward from Georgia, led the way with 15 points and eight rebounds against Louisville and 23 and 11 in the win over Temple.

Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
Wichita State rallied from 19 points down in the second half to beat Missouri State in overtime 72–69 to keep its dream of an undefeated season alive. Early, the Shockers’ standout senior forward, only hit 4-of-14 from the field, but he went 13-of-14 from the foul line en route to a 22-point, 14-rebound performance. Early has scored 18 points or more in three of Wichita State’s Missouri Valley games.

K.J. McDaniels, Clemson
McDaniels scored 24 points and had 10 rebounds to lead Clemson to a 72–59 win over Duke at Littlejohn Coliseum. McDaniels was one of three Tigers to record a double-double; Jaron Blossomgame had 14 points and 14 rebounds, and Landry Nnoko chipped in with 10 and 13 for Brad Brownell’s club. Clemson is 2–1 in the ACC.

Justin Cobbs, Cal
Cobbs has been remarkably consistent for surprising Cal, who jumped out to a 3–0 record in the Pac-12 with road wins at Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State. Cobbs, who began his career at Minnesota, scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds in the win over Oregon State on Saturday. He has converted 6-of-13 from the field and scored either 18 or 20 points in all three league games to date.

Doug McDermott, Creighton
One of the nation’s elite scorers was at his best Sunday afternoon, hitting 13-of-24 of the field for 35 points to lead the Bluejays to an 80–71 Big East win over visiting Xavier. McDermott, a senior forward, is second in the nation in scoring at 24.3 points per game.

Lamar Patterson, Pittsburgh
Patterson, who posted gaudy offensive numbers against a weak non-conference schedule, is proving he can get it done in league play as well. The Panthers’ senior guard scored 27 points and added five rebounds and six assists in Pitt’s 80–65 win over Wake Forest. Patterson has averaged 22.6 in three ACC games — all wins by the Panthers.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Smart played like an All-American last week, averaging 23 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Cowboys to Big 12 wins over Texas and West Virginia. The sophomore guard scored only 15 points in last week’s loss to Kansas State in the conference opener but bounced back with back-to-back double-doubles to help the Pokes improve to 2–1 in the league.

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Some of the best coaching in 2013-14 is anything but a youth movement.

Veteran coaches — seasoned veterans, even — have done some of their best work at the midpoint of 2013-14.

True, some of our picks for the top coaches of the year this season are on the young side. Josh Pastner, Fred Hoiberg and Derek Kellogg were all born in the 1970s. Jay Wright, Gregg Marshall, Fran McCaffery and Mike Lonergan are a long way from getting senior citizen discounts.

But some of the most impressive coaching performances this season belong to Jim Boeheim, 69, Steve Fisher, 68, and Bo Ryan, 66. Among them, the three coaches have only one loss.

This week marks the midpoint between the first college basketball games of the season and Selection Sunday, and Athlon Sports will recap all the major developments of the season this week in the College Basketball Midseason Report.

Midseason Coaches of the Year

1. Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
Anyone who thinks Wisconsin plays one kind of style, take note the Badgers have won games in the 40s (once), 50s (once), 60s (twice), 70s (six times), 80s, four times), 90s (once) and 100s (once). Ryan is automatic for a top-four finish in the Big Ten, but thanks to breakouts by Traevon Jackson and Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin can shoot for a Big Ten title and a run in the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers’ offensive efficiency rating has improved from 108th last season to fourth.

2. Steve Fisher, San Diego State
Hard to believe Fisher is in his 15th season at San Diego State. The veteran coach has turned the Aztecs into a regular NCAA contender, but this may be his finest coaching job yet. Without Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley, San Diego State is still 14-1 with its only loss at home to Arizona on Nov. 14. The Aztecs may have the best win of any team this season with a 61-57 win in Lawrence for Kansas’ first non-conference home loss since 2006.

3. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
The Shockers have won 21 of their last 22 games with the only loss in the Final Four to Louisville. As Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet have become regulars, Wichita State may have a stronger team that it did a year ago. Only two teams all season — Tennessee State and DePaul — have scored more than 70 points against Wichita State this season.

4. Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Few coaches have navigated the transfer market quite like Hoiberg, who added Marshall’s DeAndre Kane and junior college transfer Dustin Hogue to this season’s team. The new pieces in the lineup hasn’t harmed the Iowa State offense, which remains one of the most effective in the country for the second consecutive season. The next question may be to adapt to a roster without Kane in the short term.

5. Jay Wright, Villanova
Villanova became the Big East favorite thanks to wins over Kansas and Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis. The key has been more consistency on offense, particularly within the 3-point line. Villanova still takes a ton of 3s, but its production from 2-point range has improved from 46 percent to 55.5 percent.

6. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
The Hall of Fame coach doesn’t need too many more tips of the cap, but he’ll get them anyway this season. Boeheim didn’t necessarily plan to play a freshman point guard this season until Michael Carter-Williams’ broke out meant he could head to the NBA Draft. Freshman Tyler Ennis has been superb, and Jerami Grant has been a breakout performer for an undefeated team.

7. Josh Pastner, Memphis
Pastner may be Exhibit A that it takes a few years for someone to find his legs as a head coach. A shortage of big wins in his first four seasons made him an easy target, but he won’t hear about it anymore. Pastner has picked up his first two wins over ranked teams in his career and neither were at the FedEx Forum — Oklahoma State in Orlando and Louisville on the road. Memphis is struggling from the 3-point line and free throw line, but this may end up as Memphis’ best team of the Pastner era.

8. Derek Kellogg, UMass
Kellogg needed six seasons to get to this point, but the Minutemen may have their best team since 1996, when John Calipari led UMass to a 35-2 season and the Final Four. If not, UMass likely is still headed to its first NCAA Tournament since 1998. Led by dynamic point guard Chaz Williams, UMass is a veteran team that could do damage in March. The Minutemen’s only loss this season is by five on a neutral court to Florida State.

9. Fran McCaffery, Iowa
Aside from the temper tantrum that landed him a one-game suspension and aided a loss to Wisconsin, McCaffery has done a remarkable rebuilding job at Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ 84-74 win over Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday checked two key boxes this season — a road win and a victory over a top-10 team. McCaffery has been building a veteran core for this team, which could be Iowa’s first NCAA team since 2006.

10. Mike Lonergan, George Washington
The Colonials have lost two of the last four, both on the road, to Kansas State and La Salle, but Lonergan’s team should be in the thick of the Atlantic 10 race. George Washington has resume-building wins over Creighton and Maryland in the non-conference schedule. Transfers have found new life under Lonergan, most notably leading scorer Maurice Creek from Indiana and Isaiah Armwood from Villanova two seasons ago. George Washington should have its first 20-win season since 2007 and perhaps its first NCAA bid since the same year.

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College basketball has hit its midseason, and there’s still little consensus on the top freshman college player in the country.

Aaron Gordon and Tyler Ennis are leading two of the last five undefeated teams. Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins remain the top NBA prospects, but they’ve had struggles of late.

Wiggins and Kentucky’s Julius Randle might not even to be able claim status as the most valuable freshman on their own teams in the last week.

That’s why partly why we’re sticking with Gordon at the top spot this week. After Arizona’s win over UCLA on the road on Thursday, there’s little reason to drop Gordon thanks to his performance on both ends of the floor this season.

The Freshman 15: Jan. 10

1. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
Gordon has something Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle haven’t had for a while — an undefeated season. Gordon scored 10 points and added six rebounds in a hard-fought 79-75 win over UCLA on Thursday, but his trademark continues to be defense. Going into the game with the Bruins, Gordon held opponents to 34 percent shooting as an on-ball defender, notes ESPN’s Ryan Feldman.

Related: Breaking down college basketball's undefeated teams

2. Julius Randle, Kentucky
Kentucky started slow against Mississippi State, but the Wildcats pulled away for an 85-63 win. Randle was held under 10 points for the first time in his career, but he still grabbed 14 rebounds. Randle is averaging 17.4 points and 10.9 rebounds.

3. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker found his way into the doghouse as he struggled against Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton in the defensive end of the court. Parker was benched late in the loss and returned to play only 21 minutes with four fouls in a rout of Georgia Tech. Parker has shot 2 of 11 from 3-point range in his last four games. Parker remains third in the ACC in scoring at 19.8 points per game.

4. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
To compete for the national championship, Kansas probably needs Wiggins to become the unquestioned go-to player. That hasn’t happened, but he’s still be awfully productive at 15.3 points and 5.4 rebounds. The learning curve has been a little steep, though, against the Jayhawks’ hellacious non-conference schedule. KU’s conference schedule doesn’t start any easier: Kansas State, at Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor all before its first game against a non-contender on Jan. 25.

5. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Ennis is 10th in they country with a 4.7 assist-to-turnover ratio. The pace has been even better with 14 assists and three turnovers in two ACC games, albeit against Virginia Tech and Miami.

Weekend Preview: Syracuse prepping for giant-killer North Carolina

6. James Young, Kentucky
Kentucky’s offense is becoming less and less Randle-centric thanks in part to the development of Young. The 6-5 wing has a total of 44 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists in the last two games against Mississippi State and Louisville.

7. Joel Embiid, Kansas
In his last five games, Embiid is averaging 13.4 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 67.9 percent from the floor. After an eye injury in practice, however, Embiid had six points and six rebounds in the win over Oklahoma. The center likely will wear goggles for the second consecutive game when KU faces Kansas State on Saturday.

8. Marcus Foster, Kansas State
Foster was the Athlon freshman of the week with a 17-point, eight-rebound performance in an upset at home over Oklahoma State on Saturday. A stroke of luck for Bruce Weber, Foster landed at Kansas State when Weber hired assistant Alvin Brooks III, who evaluated Foster at Sam Houston State before he started to draw higher Division I offers. Foster gained weight and struggled at point guard during his final year in AAU which caused other schools to back off. At Kansas State, he’s playing his natural position at the two.

9. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Vonleh remains a force as a rebounder. He averages 9.5 rebounds per game and ranks second in defensive rebounding percentage according to KenPom.com. The offensive game still needs work as he has four field goals in two Big Ten losses to Michigan State and Illinois, though he was 10 of 12 from the free throw line against Illinois.

10. Jordan Mickey, LSU
LSU’s postseason hopes took a hit with back-to-back home losses to Tennessee and Rhode Island, but Mickey remains a consistent performer on both ends of the court with 14.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.7 rebounds.

11. Zach LaVine, UCLA
LaVine has been something of a boom or bust player, but the Bruins’ 6-5 guard has given UCLA a lift. He hit a 3-pointer to narrow Arizona’s lead to 2 late in the game, but missed another in the final seconds. LaVine is averaging 12.3 points per game while shooting 53.4 percent from the field.

12. Wayne Selden, Kansas
The Jayhawks’ other top freshman had a breakout game against Oklahoma on Wednesday, scoring 24 points in the 90-83 win. Selden shot 5 of 10 from 3-point range.

 

Related: Is North Carolina on the NCAA Tournament bubble?

13. Austin Nichols, Memphis
Nichols was held to two points in the loss to Cincinnati last week but came back to score 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting in a road win over Louisville. He added seven rebounds.

14. Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington
Williams-Goss is averaging 12.3 points, 4.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds for the Huskies.

15. Josh Hart, Villanova
Hart has been a consistent contributor for the Big East-frontrunning Wildcats with 12.1 points and 4.2 rebounds in his last six games.

Teaser:
The Freshman 15 — College Basketball Freshman Rankings: Jan. 10
Post date: Friday, January 10, 2014 - 14:46
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-weekend-preview-jan-11-12
Body:

For those a little late to the party: Welcome to basketball season.

College football is over, and conference play has started. For the casual fan, this is when the basketball lightbulb goes on.

This weekend won’t have a true headline game, though. Those occurred Tuesday when Ohio State visited Michigan State and Baylor visited Iowa State.

We’re still watching the Buckeyes, even if their loss in overtime to the Spartans knocked them from the ranks of the undefeated. Ohio State will face Iowa, home of the other major storyline in the Big Ten. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery’s bout with the referees brought on a one-game suspension and may have cost his Hawkeyes a signature win in Madison. They’ll try to regroup against Ohio State.

Beyond that, here’s all you need to know for the weekend ahead.

College Basketball Weekend Preview: Jan. 11-12

Game of the Week:
Iowa at Ohio State (Sunday, CBS, 1:30 p.m.)

Ohio State just missed another miracle comeback Tuesday against Michigan State. The same team that overcame an eight-point deficit in the final minute to beat Notre Dame outscored the Spartans 20-3 down the stretch to force overtime. Ohio State suffered its first loss of the season, but somehow no lead is safe even against a team without the most scoring punch in the country. Against the Spartans, the Buckeyes forced overtime on hustle, mainly in the form of Aaron Craft. Iowa will have Fran McCaffery back from his one-game suspension as the Hawkeyes still have to prove they’re a top-tier Big Ten team. Iowa’s three losses have come by thin margins against the three best teams on their schedule — Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin.

Upset Alert:
North Carolina at Syracuse (Saturday, noon, ESPN)

Adding an 0-2 start in the ACC to bizarre non-conference losses, North Carolina is putting together a puzzling NCAA Tournament resume. Given the up-and-down results, undefeated Syracuse has every reason to be concerned. North Carolina, though, will have to shoot better than 35 percent from the floor as the Heels did against Miami and Wake Forest.

Best Coaching Matchup:
SMU at Louisville (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS Sports Network)

Rick Pitino vs. Larry Brown, not a bad matchup early in the existence of the American Athletic Conference. Louisville, though, needs a win more than the coaching storyline. The Cardinals finally got production from Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell, but it didn't matter as Louisville shot 39.1 percent from the floor in a Thursday home loss to Memphis. After defeating Connecticut on Saturday, SMU may be in the NCAA Tournament conversation, but this is the Mustangs’ only chance for a big statement until a Feb. 1 game against Memphis.

Team in Trouble:
Xavier at Creighton (Sunday, 3 p.m., CBS Sports Network)

The worst was avoided for Creighton after potential player of the year Doug McDermott and guard Grant Gibbs sustained injuries against DePaul, but neither will be available against Xavier. McDermott has a shoulder sprain and Gibbs is out with 4-6 weeks with a dislocated kneecap. Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat will need to carry the load for a bit.

Tricky Road Trip:
Duke at Clemson (Saturday, 2 p.m., ACC syndication)

Duke came back from its loss to Notre Dame to pound Georgia Tech 79-57. Freshman Jabari Parker still only played 21 minutes after being benched late for defensive lapses against the Irish. Meanwhile, Clemson is quietly one of the best defensive teams in the nation, ranking seventh in defensive efficiency on KenPom.com.

Under the Radar Game to Watch:
Saint Louis at Dayton (Saturday, 11 a.m., ESPN2)

In Saint Louis’ two losses, the Billikens gave Wisconsin and Wichita State fits. Opponents have been able to shut down Dwayne Evans and Jordair Jett, but Saint Louis has been a stout defensive team for the second consecutive year. With an 83-80 win over Ole Miss on the road last week, Dayton is showing signs that its performance in the Maui Invitational was no fluke.

Others to watch:

Kansas State at Kansas (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
The Wildcats have defeated Gonzaga, George Washington and Oklahoma State since Dec. 21. KU’s freshmen have all the NBA upside, but Kansas State’s rookies aren’t so bad, either. Marcus Foster leads the Wildcats in scoring, and point guard Jevon Thomas is working his way into the rotation after becoming eligible.

Iowa State at Oklahoma (Saturday, noon, ESPNU)
Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane, a transfer from Marshall, is working his way into the national player of the year conversation after an outstanding performance in a win over a top-10 Baylor team on Tuesday. Oklahoma has lost two of its last three, including home games against Louisiana Tech in overtime and Kansas. Still, Oklahoma may be good enough to give Iowa State trouble in Norman in an off game.

Florida at Arkansas (Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPN2)
The enthusiasm for Arkansas’ season probably dimmed a bit after the Razorbacks’ ongoing road problems resurfaced in a 69-53 loss at Texas A&M. The Hogs were a different team in Fayetteville last season, and now they face Florida and Kentucky in back-to-back road games. Freshman Bobby Portis and sophomore Michael Qualls have been two of the league’s surprise players this season.

Villanova at St. John’s (Saturday, 1 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Villanova has been one of the season’s surprises, and St. John’s has been one of the season’s disappointments. The talented Red Storm lost big on the road to Xavier and Georgetown last week and will have to hope a return to Madison Square Garden against Villanova and a light schedule thereafter turns the tide.

Minnesota at Michigan State (Saturday, 2:15 Big Ten Network)
Minnesota is one of the surprise teams in the Big Ten this season behind veteran guards Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins (no relation). Michigan State played a poor half against Penn State on Tuesday, came back to win by 26 and pound Indiana on Saturday and then nearly coughed up a 17-point lead at home against Ohio State. This may be one of the great coaching mismatches in college basketball this season with the 31-year-old Richard Pitino up against Tom Izzo.

Virginia at NC State (Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN2)
No game is a must-win in early January, but this is a key game for both teams in the ACC. Virginia seems to have the same problem that landed the Cavaliers in the NIT a year ago by losing in ways they shouldn’t — on the road to Green Bay, in a blowout to Tennessee. NC State has surprised behind high-scoring sophomore T.J. Warren, but the Wolfpack need to change course after recent home losses to Missouri and Pittsburgh.

Maryland at Florida State (Sunday, 8 p.m., ESPNU)
Point guard Seth Allen’s return from a broken left foot has given Maryland’s offense a shot in the arm at times, but Allen is still working his way into becoming a full-time player. Florida State has one of the best defensive teams in the country, but the Seminoles haven’t shown the consistency in the offensive side of the court to be true ACC contenders.

Arizona State at UCLA (Sunday, 10 p.m., ESPNU)
Arizona State star point guard Jahii Carson has seen his numbers dip in recent games, but backcourt mate Jermaine Marshall has proven capable of carrying the scoring load. UCLA nearly handed Arizona its first loss of the season with a second-half rally before coming up short in a 79-75 loss.

Teaser:
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Jan. 11-12
Post date: Friday, January 10, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/top-games-2014-college-football-week-1
Body:

With the demise of the BCS it’s tempting to jump right ahead to thoughts of the College Football Playoff.

The regular season still matters, though. By spring, every college football fan will be hungry for the first week of the season, not debates concerning selection committee criteria.

Week 1 of 2014 will be plenty of interesting games, not least of which the opener for the defending national champions and their opponent in the national title game.

Top 10 Games for Week 1 in 2014
*all games Saturday, Sept. 1 unless noted


Tune in to the Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast as our staff talks college football every week leading up to the 2014 season.
iTunes | Podcast Archive

Oklahoma State vs. Florida State (Arlington)
The defending national champions won’t ease into the 2014 season as they open with a Cowboys team that was in the driver’s seat for the Big 12 title until the last week of the season. The draft announcements are still trickling out for both teams, but Heisman winner Jameis Winston will be back for Florida State with plenty around him to make another run at the national title. Oklahoma State may be in a bit of transition, though. Clint Chelf is on his way out as a senior, and Josh Stewart declared for the draft via Instagram. A number of defensive stalwarts (Shaun Lewis, Caleb Lavey and Justin Gilbert) are also gone. Rising junior J.W. Walsh needs to prove he can hang onto the job.

LSU vs Wisconsin (Houston)
Who passes first? With the returning running backs spurning the draft, there might be a lot of reason. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon rushed for 1,609 yards while LSU’s Jeremy Hill used a dominant bowl game performance to push his total to 1,401 yards. LSU continues its tradition of tough season openers, a run that’s included TCU, Oregon, North Carolina and Washington since 2009.

Clemson at Georgia
Don’t expect the offensive showdown that featured 72 points at Clemson to open 2013. No more Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins or Aaron Murray means this game will have a different character. Georgia running back Todd Gurley is still around, so that gives the Bulldogs the early edge.

Ole Miss vs. Boise State (Atlanta, Thursday)
A Boise State team without Chris Petersen will be a strange sight on the first day of the season, but Bryan Harsin has enough pieces returning in running back Jay Ajayi, wide receiver Matt Miller and linebacker Ben Weaver to contend in the Mountain West, but is it enough to beat Ole Miss? The Rebels’ star-studded freshman class is poised to take over as sophomores behind returning starting quarterback Bo Wallace.

Texas A&M at South Carolina (Thursday)
It’s a shame this game never took place during the last two seasons when it would have featured Johnny Manziel vs. Jadeveon Clowney. Alas, we’ll have to settle for two SEC teams whose division credentials are up in the air. New full-time starting quarterback Dylan Thompson has plenty of experience to go with running back Mike Davis. Kevin Sumlin has some rebuilding to do on offense with Manziel, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and wide receiver Mike Evans gone.

Arkansas at Auburn
Expect this storyline to get a lot of run early in the year: Is Arkansas the next Auburn? The Razorbacks went 0-9 in the SEC and return a stud running back (Alex Collins). Projecting another Auburn turnaround is impossible, but Arkansas improved late in Bret Bielema’s first season.

West Virginia vs. Alabama (Atlanta)
Nick Saban’s West Virginia roots may be the most interesting part of this game if the Mountaineers don’t make dramatic improvement from the team that lost to Kansas and Iowa State at the end of 2013. Alabama should be fine, but this is the start of the post AJ McCarron/C.J. Mosley era.

Penn State vs. UCF (Dublin)
UCF defeated Penn State at Happy Valley in 2013, so maybe Nittany Lions fans are happy to see this game played overseas, even if it means missing the debut of James Franklin.

Appalachian State at Michigan
Michigan fans will cringe at the rematch of the worst loss in Wolverines history, but if it’s any consolation, Appalachian State, despite moving up from FCS to the Sun Belt, isn’t what it was back in 2007. The Mountaineers are coming off a 4-8 season. Then again, Michigan isn’t what it was back in 2007, either.

Fresno State at USC/North Texas at Texas
USC’s Steve Sarkisian and Texas’ Charlie Strong make their debuts for their respective powerhouse programs against in-state bowl teams from 2013. Both should win their first games, but, hey, you never know.

Teaser:
The Top Games In 2014 College Football Week 1
Post date: Friday, January 10, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/north-carolina-ncaa-tournament-bubble
Body:

Syracuse, you’re on notice.

North Carolina lost 63-57 at home to Miami on Wednesday night, the Tar Heels’ second consecutive loss to an unranked team. Meanwhile, Syracuse is undefeated, playing at home on Saturday, and on paper shouldn’t have much to fear from an 0-2 ACC team that just lost to Miami and Wake Forest.

Sit down, Syracuse. Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky have some stories to share.

The conference season is only a week old, and North Carolina is putting together one of the most vexing resumes for the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

North Carolina is one of seven teams with two wins against the RPI top 20. Some of those teams you probably recognized as being close to the top of the AP poll: Wisconsin, Syracuse, Michigan State and Baylor. The other two are Kansas State and Colorado.

But the Tar Heels’ loss to Miami gives North Carolina a 1-5 record against teams ranked between No. 51 through 100 in the RPI, the same record as Evansville.

By nature, the NCAA Tournament bubble has a number of teams with good wins and bad losses — both at home, on the road and on neutral sites. But North Carolina is stretching the imagination.

North Carolina is the only team to beat Michigan State this season, in East Lansing or otherwise. The Tar Heels are the only team besides Kentucky to beat Louisville — and a Cardinals team that still had Chane Behanan at the time. Kentucky is a shell of the team most thought the Wildcats would be, but they have only three loses, one in Chapel Hill.

The most recent team with a resume as up and down as North Carolina may be Virginia from last season. The Cavaliers defeated RPI No. 1 Duke at home and lost to No. 318 Old Dominion as their two extreme results, but that was only the start.

Here’s a look at the two side by side:

Last year’s Virginia team didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, done in by too many bad losses and a weak strength of schedule. That's enough to give Tar Heels fans pause, but none of North Carolina’s losses will be as bad as Virginia’s loss to Old Dominion, a team that went 5-25.

Still, the RPI numbers for teams like Belmont and UAB are likely to drop as the two teams get deeper into conference play.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who projected North Carolina as a No. 8 seed, says North Carolina may need to break .500 in the ACC and win a game or two in the conference tournament to avoid the NIT.

Projecting how North Carolina gets to that .500 record or better would be impossible given the track record. Even in ACC play, the Tar Heels have enough opportunities for wins the committee can’t ignore and losses that could doom them on Selection Sunday.

The Tar Heels face Syracuse only once on Saturday plus the home-and-home with Duke. A road trip to Virginia and a home date against Pittsburgh are critical. The schedule also includes teams outside of the RPI top 100 (Virginia Tech, Boston College and Georgia Tech).

In other words, if the roller coaster ride continues, North Carolina is going to have make sure it counters every dip with another shocking win.

Teaser:
Is North Carolina on the NCAA Tournament Bubble?
Post date: Thursday, January 9, 2014 - 17:16
Path: /college-basketball/breaking-down-college-basketballs-last-five-undefeated-teams
Body:

Let’s start with this: An undefeated season in college basketball is extremely, extremely unlikely.

So much so, we’re about ready to call matching Indiana’s 32-0 season from 1975-76 impossible.

Five teams remain in the hunt, though, and that’s enough for fans to dream of the possibility of an unblemished season. We’re not here to squash those hopes as much to bring a dose of reality for the last five undefeated teams in college basketball.

These are all fine teams with opportunities to finish with impressive records and deep runs in the NCAA Tournament, but odds are, a loss is coming.

If you're just catching up, here's how each team has come this far and its concerns going forward. We also included our basketball staff picks for when each of the final five will, finally, learn the agony of defeat.

Breaking Down the Last Undefeated Teams in 2013-14

Arizona (15-0, 2-0 Pac-12)
Why Arizona is undefeated: The Wildcats are among the best defensive teams in the country, even if you take away the absurd game against Washington State. Arizona held Washington State (a bad team without its leading scorer, to boot) to 25 points and 20 percent shooting, including seven points in the first half. Opponents shoot 40.1 percent from 2-point range against the Wildcats and 28.2 percent from 3, both in the top 10 nationally. Aaron Gordon is one of the nation’s top freshmen, but unlike the rookies at Kentucky and Kansas, he has a few veterans around him, chiefly guard Nick Johnson. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell (3.2 assist-to-turnover ratio) has become the ideal point guard for a team with plenty of weapons.

Why Arizona won’t stay that way: The Pac-12 may be the toughest conference this season, and Arizona will play all but the lackluster Washington schools twice. That means road trips to face veteran teams at UCLA, Oregon and Colorado. The latter two are in the top 20, and the Bruins might not be too far off. Each school has the top-tier players who can go head to head with Arizona.

When will Arizona lose its first game?
David Fox: Jan. 9 at UCLA
Braden Gall: Feb. 1 at Cal
Mitch Light: Feb. 22 at Colorado

Iowa State (14-0, 2-0)
Why Iowa State is undefeated: In what seems to be the perfect match between a transfer and a school, Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane took his statsheet-stuffing ability to Iowa State. He’s turned the Cyclones from NCAA Tournament contender into a Big 12 title possibility. As Iowa State pulled away from Baylor on Tuesday, Kane had 30 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and five steals against another Big 12 championship contender. Georges Niang, Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue are a dangerous trio of 6-6/6-7 forwards.

Why Iowa State won’t stay that way: Iowa State doesn’t have a lot of big bodies in the frontcourt, which limits the Cyclones around the basket. Bigger lineups for Kansas and Texas could be matchup problems.

When will Iowa State lose its first game?
David Fox: Jan. 18 at Texas
Braden Gall: Jan. 18 at Texas
Mitch Light: Jan. 29 at Kansas

Syracuse (15-0, 2-0)
Why Syracuse is undefeated: Freshman Tyler Ennis has taken over the point guard to a degree few expected, even for a five-star recruit. Ennis has been a key set-up man for ACC player of the year contender C.J. Fair and even more important has been careful with the ball. The rookie hasn’t had more than two turnovers in a game all season. Jeremi Grant has also taken the next step Jim Boeheim needed. Grant was a role payer on last year’s Final Four team and now averages 12.3 points and 6.1 rebounds. Syracuse is third nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom.com.

Why Syracuse won’t stay that way: The ACC schedule. If Syracuse gets to late February undefeated, the Orange will have a three-game road swing through the heart of the ACC — or what the ACC used to be. Syracuse will visit Duke (Feb. 22), Maryland (Feb. 24) and Virginia (March 1).

When will Syracuse lose its first game?
David Fox: Feb. 12 at Pittsburgh
Braden Gall: Feb. 12 at Pittsburgh
Mitch Light: Feb. 22 at Duke

Wichita State (16-0, 3-0 Missouri Valley)
Why Wichita State is undefeated: In part, at least, the schedule. With key players from the Final Four team, the Shockers had trouble getting games non-conference games this year. Still, Wichita State managed to play BYU, Saint Louis, Tennessee and Alabama and win them all. Only the game against the Volunteers was at home. Don’t disregard the roster at the expense of the schedule, though. This team may better than last year’s. Fred VanVleet has assumed point guard duties as well as coach Gregg Marshall could have hoped. Ron Baker has shown he’s capable of doing over the course of the entire season what he did in the NCAA Tournament.

Why Wichita State won’t stay that way: Because going undefeated is tough, right? Without Creighton in the Missouri Valley, Wichita State’s toughest league games will be back-to-back road trips against Indiana State (Feb. 5) and Northern Iowa (Feb. 8)

When will Wichita State lose its first game?
David Fox: Missouri Valley Tournament
Braden Gall: Jan. 25 at Drake
Mitch Light: Feb. 5 at Indiana State

Wisconsin (16-0, 3-0 Big Ten)
Why Wisconsin is undefeated: Coach Bo Ryan has a system and he sticks to it. The Badgers are ranked in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom.com — a trait that’s usually a prerequisite to winning the national championship. Sam Dekker has improved from last season, mainly by playing closer to the basket. Frank Kaminsky has cooled since his 43-point outburst against North Dakota on Nov. 19, but he’s been a consistent contributor.

Why Wisconsin won’t stay that way: The Big Ten is tough, but Wisconsin lucks out by missing road trips to Michigan State and Ohio State. The Badgers had their toughest test against Iowa on Sunday, a game Wisconsin may have lost if not for the free throws as a result of coach Fran McCaffery’s ejection. Dekker and Kaminsky were a combined 5 of 20 from the field as the Hawkeyes grabbed 16 offensive rebounds.

When will Wisconsin lose its first game?
David Fox: Jan. 14 at Indiana
Braden Gall: Jan. 22 at Minnesota
Mitch Light: Jan. 14 at Indiana

Teaser:
Breaking Down College Basketball's Last Five Undefeated Teams
Post date: Thursday, January 9, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-college-basketball-podcast-talking-2014
Body:

The 2014 season is over, so it’s time to start talking a little 2014 football.
 
First, hosts Braden Gall and David Fox put Florida State’s championship into perspective. The question: Did Jameis Winston just complete the best freshman season in college football history? Or does the nod go to Johnny Manziel, Adrian Peterson or Maurice Clarrett.

Then, they break down some of the coaching news. Charlie Strong is the guy at Texas, but not everyone is on the bandwagon. Penn State thought they were close to nabbing James Franklin, but the Nittany Lions are in limbo. Does Franklin have it better in Nashville?

And then moving on to 2014, Fox and Gall go through the major conferences and discuss their storylines to watch in the upcoming months from off-field issues, recruiting, new coaches and personnel.

Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall or @DavidFox615 or email podcast@athlonsports.com. The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com, iTunes and our podcast RSS feed.

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Cover 2 College Football Podcast: Talking 2014
Post date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 - 16:29
All taxonomy terms: cbb-arena-ballots, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-arena-poll-all-12-individual-ballots
Body:

When folks are looking for a place to vacation, maybe they consult well-traveled friends. When they’re looking for a place to eat, maybe they ask their favorite foodie or consult Yelp.

The bottom line, when you’re looking for the best, it’s usually good to ask the experts, the true connoisseurs with experience and discerning tastes.

We’re taking the same approach to find the best college basketball venue in America.

Athlon Sports polled a dozen college basketball media members — both writers and broadcasters, professional journalists and former players and coaches — on their top arenas. We asked each to rank their top in terms of atmosphere, experience and amenities. In short, where would they recommend fans go to see a game.

Athlon tabulated all of their ballots, giving each No. 1 10 points all the way to one point for No. 10.

Some of the results were surprising. Some were not. While we expected Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse and Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium to be the top two, we were taken aback at how much separation there would be between those two and the rest of the field. Indeed, Kansas and Duke were the only arenas to appear on all 12 ballots.

We were pleased to see the diversity in picks, too, beyond just our top 10. Our panel picked arenas form coast to coast, stadiums from major conferences and the mid-major ranks, and venues old and new.

Slideshow: Images from the Top 10 Arenas

Here were the final results:
 

Complete Results: Athlon Sports’ College Basketball Arena Experts Poll
ArenaSchoolPoints (first-place)
1. Allen FieldhouseKansas115 (9)
2. Cameron Indoor StadiumDuke105 (1)
3. Hinkle FieldhouseButler58 (1)
4. Rupp ArenaKentucky50
5. Assembly HallIndiana49
6. Breslin CenterMichigan State37
7. The PalestraPenn/Philadelphia Big 535
8. Madison Square GardenSt. John's/Big East Tourney34 (1)
9. The PitNew Mexico31
10. Gallagher-Iba ArenaOklahoma State24
College Basketball Arena Experts Poll: Individual Ballots
Jay Bilas, ESPN
1. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
2. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
3. Breslin Center, Michigan State
4. Rupp Arena, Kentucky
5. Assembly Hall, Indiana
6. Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler
7. Kohl Center, Wisconsin
8. UD Arena, Dayton
9. Carrier Dome, Syracuse
10. Gallagher-Iba Arena, Oklahoma State
Rob Dauster, College Basketball Talk
1. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
2. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
3. Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler
4. Gallagher-Iba Arena, Oklahoma State
5. The Palestra, Penn
6. The Pit, New Mexico
7. Assembly Hall, Indiana
8. McKale Center, Arizona
9. Breslin Center, Michigan State
10. Rupp Arena, Kentucky
Mike DeCourcy, The Sporting News
1. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
2. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
3. Madison Square Garden
4. McKale Center, Arizona
5. Williams Arena, Minnesota
6. Rupp Arena, Kentucky
7. Breslin Center, Michigan State
8. Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler
9. Alaska Airlines Arena, Washington
10. Gallagher-Iba Arena, Oklahoma State
Pat Forde, Yahoo Sports
1. Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler
2. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
3. KFC Yum! Center, Louisville
4. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
5. Assembly Hall, Indiana
6. Dean Smith Center, North Carolina
7. Rupp Arena, Kentucky
8. Fifth Third Arena, Cincinnati
9. Breslin Center, Michigan State
10. Thompson Boling Arena, Tennessee
Fran Fraschilla, ESPN
1. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
2. Assembly Hall, Indiana
3. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
4. The Palestra, Penn
5. Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler
6. Carrier Dome, Syracuse
7. Breslin Center, Michigan State
8. The Pit, New Mexico
9. Hilton Coliseum, Iowa State
10. Gallagher-Iba Arena, Oklahoma State
Jeff Goodman, ESPN
1. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
2. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
3. Rupp Arena, Kentucky
4. McCarthey Athletic Center, Gonzaga
5. Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler
6. Viejas Arena, San Diego State
7. The Pit, New Mexico
8. Charles Koch Arena, Wichita State
9. Comcast Center, Maryland
10. CenturyLink Center, Creighton
Seth Greenberg, ESPN
1. Madison Square Garden
2. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
3. Rupp Arena, Kentucky
4. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
5. McKale Center, Arizona
6. Carrier Dome, Syracuse
7. Assembly Hall, Indiana
8. Breslin Center, Michigan State
9. The Pit, New mexico
10. Dean Smith Center, North Carolina
Jason King, Bleacher Report
1. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
2. Assembly Hall, Indiana
3. Cameron Indoor, Duke
4. Carrier Dome, Syracuse
5. The Pit, New Mexico
6. Gallagher-Iba Arena, Oklahoma State
7. McCarthey Athletic Center, Gonzaga
8. Rupp Arena, Kentucky
9. Charles Koch Arena, Wichita State
10. Kohl Center, Wisconsin
Dave LaMont, ESPN
1. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
2. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
3. Madison Square Garden
4. Charles Koch Arena, Wichita State
5. The Pit, New Mexico
6. Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler
7. The Palestra, Penn
8. Pauley Pavilion, UCLA
9. Assembly Hall, Indiana
10. Cole Field House, Maryland
Matt Norlander, CBSSports.com
1. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
2. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
3. Hinkle Fieldhouse, Duke
4. Assembly Hall, Indiana
5. The Palestra, Penn
6. Breslin Center, Michigan State
7. Gallagher-Iba Arena, Oklahoma State
8. The Pit, New Mexico
9. Carrier Dome, Syracuse
10. Rupp Arena, Kentucky
Eric Prisbell, USA Today
1. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
2. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
3. Madison Square Garden
4. Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler
5. Rupp Arena, Kentucky
6. Breslin Center, Michigan State
7. The Palestra, Penn
8. Kohl Center, Wisconsin
9. Assembly Hall, Indiana
10. Peterson Event Center, Pittsburgh
Dick “Hoops” Weiss, BlueStar Media
1. Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
2. Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke
3. The Palestra, Penn
4. Rupp Arena, Kentucky
5. Joyce Center, Notre Dame
6. Gallagher-Iba Arena, Oklahoma State
7. Breslin Center, Michigan State
8. Dean Smith Center, North Carolina
9. The Pit, New Mexico
10. McCarthey Athletic Center, Gonzaga

Slideshow: Images from the Top 10 Arenas

Teaser:
College Basketball Arena Poll: All 12 Individual Ballots
Post date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-basketball/weekly-tipoff-who-nations-most-underrated-freshman
Body:

No question the top storyline in 2013-14 for the casual fan — and even a handful of NBA fans — is the glut of elite freshmen.

Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon have become appointment viewing. Anyone paying close attention has ideas of who is delivering and who has work to do to live up to the recruiting rankings and NBA Draft stock.

Anyone just paying attention to those four — and other notables like Tyler Ennis at Syracuse and Noah Vonleh at Indiana — is doing themselves a disservice.

Other teams have key freshmen playing major roles, and unlike the others, they might stick around for more than a season.

Weekly Tipoff: Who is the nation’s most underrated freshman?


David Fox: Kansas State has work to do on the offensive end of the court, but the Wildcats are trending in the right direction thanks to two under-the-radar freshmen. K-State is long way from the team that scored 58 points in a loss to Northern Colorado, 61 in a loss to Charlotte and 63 in a loss to Georgetown. Guard Marcus Foster leads Kansas State in scoring at 14 points per game and led the way in a win over Oklahoma State on Saturday. The key for Kansas State’s long-term prospects is point guard Jevon Thomas, who is still working his way into the lineup since becoming eligible in mid-December. In his first three games, Thomas has 15 assists and two turnovers as a part-time player. We know Kansas State will defend, but I’m looking forward to watching this backcourt on offense through Big 12 play.

Braden Gall: I will go with LSU's Jordan Mickey, a bouncy 6-foot-8, 225-pound wing from Arlington, Texas. The Tigers' athletic slasher wasn't a top 35 recruit like the bigger names in this historic freshman class, but few players nationally have has as big an impact on their team than Mickey. He leads all freshman with 11.3 combined rebounds and blocks per game (over Julius Randle) and is leading the Tigers in rebounding at 7.8 per game. Mickey is fifth nationally among freshman in scoring at 14.3 points per game and is nearly leading LSU in points as well (Johnny O'Bryant, 14.6). He debuted with a double-double in the close loss to UMass and has scored in double-digits in all but one career game thus far. If LSU (9-3) plays well enough to sneak into the tournament this year, Mickey will be a huge part of it.

Teaser:
Weekly Tipoff: Who is the nation's most underrated freshman?
Post date: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 13:46
Path: /college-basketball/weekly-tipoff-which-preseason-top-10-team-has-most-concerns
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The last few weeks have given a few big-name programs and coaches much to think about on the practice court.

Louisville is recalibrating without Chane Behanan for a team that already showed flaws that could prevent the Cardinals from defending their national title. Kansas’ youth has been exposed by a brutal non-conference schedule. Duke has struggled in the defensive end of the court even before losing to a shorthanded Notre Dame on the road.

The top 10 has been thrown into disarray in recent weeks to a point where it’s almost unrecognizable from the preseason rankings, but which of these teams have the most pressing long-term concerns?

It’s worth noting Michigan, a team that recently lost forward Mitch McGary to back surgery, was ranked in the preseason top 10 in the AP and coaches’ poll, but Athlon ranked the Wolverines No. 12. Both are obsolete at this point, but we decided to make our question more difficult by looking only at the Athlon preseason top 10.

Weekly Tipoff: Which Athlon preseason top 10 team has the most concerns?

David Fox: That’s a tough call mainly because the most likely candidates who were among Athlon’s preseason top 10 — Kentucky, Louisville, Duke, Kansas — have arguably top-five coaches and immense talent. Are you really going to bet against Calipari, Pitino, Krzyzewski and Self figuring things out by February? Another team, Oklahoma State, has depth issues, but I’m not going to bet against Marcus Smart, either. Of those five, I’m going to go with Louisville. The Cardinals didn’t look like a national championship team with forward Chane Behanan in the lineup, and now he’s gone for the year. The Cards entered AAC play without a signature win and without consistent contributions from the supporting cast of Wayne Blackshear, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell. Guards Russ Smith and Chris Jones have been fantastic, but the Cardinals are forcing their guard duo to carry the entire load.

Braden Gall: Louisville has had some roster attrition since winning the national title, Kansas and Kentucky are extremely young and Michigan State has dealt with major injuries. But North Carolina has to be considered the biggest question mark in the preseason top 10. The Tar Heels are the most schizophrenic team in the nation — capable of winning at Michigan State and against both Louisville and Kentucky while also dysfunctional enough to lose to unranked Belmont, UAB, Texas and Wake Forest. This team has some talent, although not as much as Roy Williams' championship squads, so they are a clearcut top notch ACC team. But are the Tar Heels as good as Duke or Syracuse in that league? I am not ready to say that yet.

Teaser:
Weekly Tipoff: Which preseason top 10 team has the most concerns?
Post date: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 13:34
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/11-reasons-youre-glad-say-goodbye-bcs
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The BCS acronym is kind of perfect, really.

It’s as if the organizers wanted to make sure BS made its way in there somehow.

Even the name spelled out is all wrong: Bowl Championship Series. The "championship" involves one game, hardly a series at all.

The BCS era ended Monday night with the final championship game. A playoff, limited as it may be to four teams, begins next season. The polls and computer rankings will give way to a 13-person selection committee.

The frustration and confusion this era has wrought will make many say good riddance.

Yesterday, we picked the reasons why you’ll end up missing the BCS when it’s gone. This is why you’re more than happy to kick it to the curb.

11 Reasons you’re glad BCS is gone

Three Words: College. Football. Playoff.
Sure, the BCS set up a winner-take-all title game situation, but think of the underlying idea behind this: Since 1998, only two teams, according to this system, are worthy of playing for the national championship. The infuriating reality was that teams were better off losing early in the season rather than losing late in most cases. The playoff — one hopes — allows more wiggle room for teams that improve as the season goes along, like Michigan State this year, or teams that lose in wild ways, like Alabama. Parsing the one-loss teams or picking which two-loss teams are worthy may be controversial, but it’s unlikely a team in a major conference can go undefeated and miss an opportunity to play for a title.

The BCS didn’t end split national champions
The No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup was supposed to put an end to split national champions, but that failed in 2003. USC was ranked No. 1 in the coaches’ and AP polls, but the computer average downgraded the Trojans to third, sending Oklahoma and LSU to the title game. LSU beat the Sooners, and USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The coaches were obligated to vote for the BCS championship game winner, but the AP voters were not and gave their trophy to USC.

The BCS screwed up the title game at least twice
Feel free to argue 2004 Auburn belonged in the championship game or Texas should have gone instead of Oklahoma in 2008 when the Longhorns defeated the Sooners. Let’s just stick with the most egregious title game mishaps. Before the computer rankings and the BCS formula outweighed the human polls in 2003 (see above), they did something even worse in 2001. Nebraska lost the Big 12 title game 62-36 to Colorado that year but still remained No. 2 the final BCS rankings. Joey Harrington-led Oregon ranked second in the AP and coaches’ polls after the conference title games, and two-loss Colorado ranked third across the board. Nebraska got the title game nod in the BCS, though, and proceeded to get clobbered 37-14 by Miami.

The BCS brought us the ridiculous Harris poll
When the AP pulled its top 25 out of the BCS rankings after three undefeated teams topped the polls in 2004, the BCS powers that be replaced it with the Harris Interactive top 25. The Harris poll featured a collection of former players, coaches, administrators and former and current media members. Some of the names over the years were well-known. Lloyd Carr, Jackie Sherrill, Tommie Frazier and Boomer Esiason were all on the panel at one point or another (so was Jerry Sandusky). Some of the voters were obscure, little-known lettermen — now businessmen, doctors, dentists and even PGA tour officials — who didn’t even know who nominated them in the first place. Some of them even admitted to not watching the games. Though Harris released their names and final ballots, other information was tough to find. Not that it mattered, as many fans continued to assume the AP poll was involved until the very end.

The BCS brought us the even more ridiculous computer rankings
The Harris poll was ludicrous, but in practice, it essentially produced a carbon copy of the coaches’ poll or AP poll, for better or worse. The size of the panel (100-plus voters) prevented anyone with a truly wacky ballot to do much damage. That’s when the computers come in. The first BCS rankings had three computers. The next one had eight. By the end, the standings had six. It seems strange that now that statistical analysis is more mainstream and better than it was in 1998, the computers are still one of the worst parts of the BCS. What did the algorithms count? Who really knows. The proprietors computers were never required to open them up to inspection. The only thing forbidden: An emphasis margin of victory. After several seasons, the BCS administrators didn’t want to encourage teams to run up the score, so they removed the margin of victory component. Never mind that beating opponents by significant margins might be the sign of a good team. In 2010, statistical guru Jerry Palm noticed one of the computer rankings had a mistake that altered the final BCS rankings. How often has that happened? Who knows? Wes Colley was one of the few that opened his rankings for inspection, for those — like Palm — savvy enough to do so.

The BCS diminished New Year’s Day
In the final bowl season before the BCS in 1997, six bowl games were played on New Year’s Day — the Citrus, Sugar, Outback, Gator, Cotton and Rose. Granted, that’s the same amount of Jan. 1 bowl games in 2013. But consider the ballooning of bowl season since then — Six of 18 bowl games that year were Jan. 1. There were 35 bowl games in 2013. Also in 1997, bowl season ended on Jan. 2 with the Orange and Peach bowls. Making a New Year’s Day bowl game used to be a major accomplishment. This season Jan. 1 featured North Texas and UNLV playing on ESPNU as some of the more prominent games, including the title game, stretched into the following week.

The BCS still prevented upstart teams from the big stage
True, the BCS may be more responsible for the rise of Boise State and Utah than anything else. But don’t let that obscure that the BCS had one job: To match the No. 1 and No. 2 team in a bowl game. The rest was, essentially, the old bowl system at work. There were automatic bids for major conference champions and other teams that reached certain thresholds in the rankings. But the rest of the non-title game pairings were still based on who could sell more tickets or guarantee a big TV ranking. The two-teams-per-conference rule also kept deserving teams out of major bowl games. Top 10 teams from Arkansas, Boise State, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas Tech and Oregon all missed out on BCS games over the years in essence because their travel parties weren’t big enough.

The BCS rankings put too much focus the preseason
Kudos to the BCS never releasing the standings before mid-October, but that wasn’t enough. The habits of pollsters didn’t change. Teams in the preseason rankings, in general, tended to keep their ranking until they lost. Case in point: 2004 Auburn started 17th in the preseason AP poll. USC and Oklahoma were ranked Nos. 1-2. Guess who played for the title? The weekly horse race was probably fun for fans and fed into the every-week-is-a-playoff line BCS supporters were trumpeting. But it also invited anger and confusion if one team jumped another when both teams won. Our advice to the College Football Playoff selection committee: Follow the lead of the basketball committee and keep your picks close to the vest until all the games are finished.

The BCS encouraged watered-down schedules
If teams know the voters tended to keep undefeated major-conference teams ranked ahead of teams with losses, then what’s the incentive to play tough non-conference games? During the BCS era, regular-season schedules expanded from 11 games to 12, but most power programs used that extra game to schedule an extra September gimme game or a sure Homecoming win. Granted, some teams — Oregon, Virginia Tech and LSU, for example — still scheduled premier non-conference games, but others were happy to sell out their stadiums for Sun Belt or FCS schools. With the exception of traditional rivalry games, true home-and-home matchups between power programs became increasingly rare.

Conference realignment
Among unintended consequences of the BCS era: A Big 12 with 10 teams, a Big Ten with 14 teams including Rutgers and Maryland, a Missouri team that plays in the SEC East but doesn’t play Kansas, a Thanksgiving without Texas-Texas A&M and the destruction of the Big East and the WAC.

S-E-C, S-E-C
If the BCS itself wasn’t the villain of the era, then the SEC became one. The end of the BCS era culminated with the rise of the SEC as the unquestioned king of college football. Seven consecutive national championships by four different programs set up an SEC monolith. By the end, the SEC champion was assured a spot in the title game, and even then SEC teams played by their own rules. The only time a team lost two games for a national championship? LSU. The only time a team failed to win its division played for (and won) a national title? Alabama. And then there’s that chant.

Teaser:
11 Reasons You're Glad to Say Goodbye to the BCS
Post date: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 07:00
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In a literal sense, the college football postseason is one meaningful game preceded by 34 exhibitions.

Maybe that’s true to a degree, but the bowl season has a way of setting the storylines for the offseason. After all, this is the only college football anyone is going to see until August, unless you start counting spring games.

Here’s who gained and lost the most through bowl season.

Bowl Season Winners and Losers

Winner: Florida State
Have we seen the beginning of a sea change in the college football postseason. Certainly, switching from the BCS to the College Football Playoff will be a major storyline, but Florida State may be the nation’s top program in the new era. Florida State won the final BCS championship and is likely the preseason No. 1 in the first year of the playoff. Heisman winner Jameis Winston will be a redshirt freshman, and all but 14 players on the depth chart from the title game signed between 2011-13.

Loser: The SEC
Florida State ended the SEC’s streak of seven consecutive national championships, but Alabama’s loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl gave the SEC an 0-2 record in the BCS. The league still finished 7-3 in bowl season, but the SEC doesn’t pride itself on merely winning Capital One Bowls and Cotton Bowls.

Winner: Trevor Knight’s emergence
Oklahoma’s flip flopping at quarterback due to injuries and ineffectiveness cast a shadow over the season for the Sooners up until kickoff in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. Trevor Knight’s bowl performance did more than ensure he’ll open 2014 as the starter; it likely makes Oklahoma the preseason Big 12 favorite and Knight one of the country’s rising stars. It’s tough to overstate how shocking Knight’s performance was in New Orleans. Since September, Knight had passed for a total of 260 yards. Against Alabama, Knight completed 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards with four touchdown passes as the Sooners converted 5 of their first 7 third downs. Against a defense that had allowed only three 40-yard pass plays all year, Knight had a pair of touchdown passes for at least 40 yards.

Loser: AJ McCarron’s sendoff
The Alabama quarterback has had one of the great careers in college football history, but forgive him if he never wants to see a redshirt freshman dual-threat quarterback ever again. Knight upstaged McCarron in his final game, but McCarron had his own problems — not that they were all his fault. Protection fell apart all night in the Sugar Bowl as McCarron finished 19 of 30 for 387 yards with two touchdowns, but also three turnovers. The final, a fumble on his last play, yielded the touchdown that put the game out of reach.

Winner: Clemson’s validated season
This is the end of an era for the Tigers with quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins moving on (and perhaps offensive coordinator Chad Morris). Clemson made sure their tenures ended with a meaningful 40-35 win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. Boyd finished with 505 yards of total offense, and Watkins caught 16 passes for 227 yards with two touchdowns.

Loser: Ohio State against top teams
The Buckeyes were poised to go to the national championship game into the first weekend of December before the 34-24 loss to Michigan State. By the end of the season, we learned the only thing more suspect than Ohio State’s schedule was the Buckeyes’ defense. Against Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson, Ohio State allowed an average of 539 yards per game and seven yards per play over the final three games of the season.

Winner: Bob Stoops’ vindication
The Oklahoma coach took a well-earned victory lap after the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. Stoops hasn’t been shy about saying he’s not really buying into the depth of the SEC. If Oklahoma lost big to Alabama — an outcome that wouldn’t have been shocking — Sooners fans probably would stop buying into “Big Game Bob.” Instead, Oklahoma upset the Tide 45-31. This wasn’t one of Stoops’ best teams in Norman, but it still went 11-2 and will finish in the top 10 for the first time since 2010. Stoops has earned the right to speak his mind a little more.

Loser: Texas A&M’s paper-thin defense
Texas A&M will need to find a new identity in 2014 if Johnny Manziel heads to the NFL Draft as expected. The Aggies’ defense has been a liability all year but never more than in the first half of the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke. The Blue Devils scored at will, putting up 38 points and 365 yards on 36 plays before halftime. The Aggies came back to win 52-48, but the offseason will have more questions than answers.

Winner: Bo Pelini’s offseason
The sarcastic remarks were a little too easy as Nebraska entered the Gator Bowl against Georgia with four losses — the mark Bo Pelini has hit exactly in each of his six seasons with the Cornhuskers. Fate, it seems, won’t let Pelini get to five losses. Indeed, such a mark would only help the Cornhuskers to fire him, if they wanted to. Instead, Nebraska’s defense twice stopped Georgia on fourth down inside the 20 in the fourth quarter in the 24-19 win. Including those defensive stands, Pelini’s defense held Georgia to 2.2 yards per carry with four sacks and an interception. Pelini may still enter 2014 coaching for his job, but at least he won’t go into the offseason following his worst year as a head coach.

Loser: Minnesota in crunch time
Minnesota letting a bowl win slip away is getting to be a tradition. After trailing 14-3, Minnesota took a fourth quarter lead on Syracuse in the Texas Bowl before surrendering a long punt return that set up the Orange to win 21-17. A year ago, Minnesota led Texas Tech by a touchdown in the fourth quarter before the Red Raiders scored 10 points in the final 1:10 to win 34-31. And in 2006, Minnesota had one of the biggest bowl collapses in history by giving up a 31-point lead to Texas Tech, ending the tenure of former coach Glen Mason. The Gophers have lost six consecutive bowl games, with the last win coming in 2004.

Winner: The SEC’s returning tailbacks
Bowl performances from LSU’s Jeremy Hill (216 yards, two touchdowns vs. Iowa) and Georgia’s Todd Gurley (183 yards from scrimmages vs. Nebraska) weren’t totally unexpected, but Alabama, even in a loss, showed the depths of their running back talent. Derrick Henry had carried the ball 27 times all season before facing Oklahoma, but he was turned out to be just a dynamic mix of strength and speed as Hill and Gurley. Henry rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on only eight carries and delivered one of the highlights of the game with his 61-yard touchdown catch, his first career reception, on a swing pass. If 2013 was the year of the quarterback in the SEC, the 2014 season might be a return to form for the league’s tailbacks. Hill, Gurley and Henry will all return.

Loser: The Big Ten’s substitute quarterbacks
Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan all had to go to backup quarterbacks during bowl season with only the Wolverines preparing to play in the postseason without their starting quarterback. The results were not good. Freshman Shane Morris was 24 of 38 for 196 yards with an interception in the 31-14 loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Making matters worse, he was also the only player to rush for more than 14 yards. Iowa freshman C.J. Beathard was 4 of 7 with a touchdown and an interception after replacing starter Jake Rudock. Badgers backup Curt Phillips threw two picks after Joel Stave left the Capital One Bowl with a shoulder injury

Winner: The Pac-12’s returning quarterbacks
Want to energize a fanbase for the upcoming season? How about a dominant performance by a quarterback followed by the quarterback announcing he’ll return to school. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota returned from the knee injury that hampered his running ability late in the season to rush for 133 yards on 15 carries in a 30-7 win over Texas in the Alamo Bowl. He also completed 18 of 26 passes for 253 yards with a touchdown. UCLA’s Brett Hundley may have been even better, rushing for 161 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries plus 16-of-19 passing for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the 42-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Oregon State’s Sean Mannion also will return to school after a bowl win over Boise State. Oregon will remain in the title hunt with Mariota back, but UCLA remains a team worth watching with Hundley returning.

Loser: David Shaw’s second-half decisions
The Stanford coach will have two calls that may gnaw at him all offseason from the second half of the Rose Bowl. On a fourth and 3 from the Michigan State 36 with 4:16 left in the third quarter, Shaw opted to roll the dice early, but Tyler Gaffney was stopped for a three-yard loss. Then, with the game on the line on a fourth and 1 in the final moments, Shaw went to fullback Ryan Hewitt, who was stuffed at the line. Two years ago, Stanford lost the Fiesta Bowl when the Cardinal missed a 35-yard field goal on third and 2, preserving a tie and allowing Oklahoma State to win in overtime.

Winner: Connor Cook’s progression
Back in September, three Michigan State quarterbacks combined for one measly offensive touchdown against USF at home. The Spartans will enter 2014 with quarterback one of the team’s top strengths. Cook was 22 of 36 for 332 yards with two touchdowns and an interception as Michigan State put the game in his hands in the 24-20 Rose Bowl victory. The Spartans will need the offense to open 2014 fully formed as the defense will have its share of rebuilding without Darqueze Dennard, Denicos Allen and Max Bullough.

Loser: The MAC
Credit the MAC for being good TV, all the way up to the GoDaddy Bowl on Sunday, but world-beaters MAC teams are not. Northern Illinois may have started 2-0 against the Big Ten, but the MAC went 0-5 in bowl games. Only one of those bowl losses came to a major conference team (Bowling Green to Pittsburgh).

Winner: Louisville’s Sunshine State credibility
The Cardinals aren’t going to contend for the ACC next season with Teddy Bridgewater off to the NFL and Charlie Strong to Texas. But the new Cardinals coach has a nice head start. Even with Bridgewater gone, Louisville has its core of veterans back. And if the new coach continues to recruit Florida aggressively — as Strong and Bobby Petrino did — he can brag about Louisville easily defeating the Gators and Miami in bowl games the last two seasons.

Loser: Paul Johnson’s offseason
Not that Paul Johnson’s disposition will show much difference, but this isn’t going to be a fun offseason for the Georgia Tech coach. The Yellow Jackets collapsed to lose 41-34 in double overtime at home to Georgia, their fifth consecutive loss in the series. Then the Yellow Jackets lost 25-17 to Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl. Days later, CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman reported Johnson was unhappy at Georgia Tech, and he had hoped a buyout would be on its way (Johnson denied it). With a 28-25 record since the 2009 ACC title, Johnson might not have to wait long.

Winner: Dan Mullen’s peace of mind
In the SEC, someone has to be the hot seat coach of the year (hello, Will Muschamp). Mississippi State’s Mullen appeared to be headed that way with precious few big wins, but the Bulldogs ended the season in a high note — three consecutive wins including Ole Miss and a Liberty Bowl rout of Rice to ensure a fourth consecutive winning season for Mullen.

Loser: Arizona State’s showing
Every postseason a handful of teams look like they’d rather be home for the holidays or in a better bowl game. Arizona State was that team this year. The Sun Devils, who were playing as well as anyone leading up to the Pac-12 title game, trailed 27-6 to Texas Tech at one point and botched clock management at the end of the first half. An embarrassing episode in an otherwise good year for Todd Graham.

Winner: Texas Tech’s big upset
The Big 12 was involved in the three biggest bowl surprises with Oklahoma defeating Alabama in the Sugar and UCF defeating Baylor in the Fiesta. The third was Texas Tech’s 37-23 win over Pac-12 South champion Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Kliff Kingsbury’s year-long quest to find a quarterback culminated with freshman Davis Webb completing 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards with four touchdowns. The Red Raiders had lost five in a row entering bowl season.

Loser: Washington State’s collapse
Bowl season began in dramatic fashion, though it didn’t look like it would start that way. Washington State took a 35-13 lead in the second quarter of the New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State, but the Rams continued to chip away at the lead. Washington State helped by rushing for minus-10 yards and fumbling twice to lose 48-45.

Winner: Steve Sarkisian’s quarterback situation
Sarkisian inherited Jake Locker when he took the Washington job, and at USC he’ll inherit another incumbent quarterback ready to take the next step. Cody Kessler completed 22 of 30 passes for 344 yards and four touchdowns in the 45-20 win over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Kessler completed 69.9 percent of his passes for 8.5 yards per attempt with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions in his final seven games of the season.

Loser: Charlie Strong’s outlook
The Alamo Bowl served in part to show how far Texas has to go to be a national title contender under new coach Charlie Strong. The Longhorns’ defense played about as well as it possibly could, holding the Ducks to one offensive touchdown in the first half. Yet the Longhorns still lost by 23. Case McCoy was dreadful, completing 8 of 17 passes for 48 yards with two touchdowns. One of Strong’s first jobs will be to groom Tyrone Swoopes or incoming freshman Jerrod Heard for the position.

Winner: January bowl games
The final year of the BCS brought memorable games, especially for underdogs. Oklahoma, UCF, Clemson and Michigan State all defeated favorites in their BCS games. All together, bowls on Jan. 1 or later were decided by an average of 9.2 points. Pulling that average up was North Texas’ 36-14 win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Loser: December bowl games
A few games were close, but the December bowl games were mostly duds settled by an average of 15.7 points per game.

Teaser:
2013-14 Bowl Season Winners and Losers
Post date: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/bcs-championship-game-rapid-reaction-florida-state-34-auburn-31
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The final BCS championship game was billed as a matchup between the team that dominated all year and the team that found ways to win in unlikely fashion.

Florida State proved they can be one in the same in defeating Auburn 34-31 for the BCS championship.

The Seminoles trailed by 18 before staging the biggest second-half comeback in BCS title game history. A game-winning drive from Winston and a 100-yard kickoff return from little-known freshman Levonte “Kermit” Whitfield in the fourth quarter provided all the miracles against the Tigers.

The game, in many ways, summed up the BCS era. The most dramatic title game since Texas defeated USC in 2005 — a game also played in the Rose Bowl — return the national championship to Florida State. The SEC has ruled college football for seven consecutive seasons, but the start of the BCS era was notable for the dominance of the Seminoles.

As the College Football Playoff begins in 2014, Florida State is back on top.

RAPID REACTION: Florida State 34, Auburn 31

Player of the game: Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston
Unflappable for most of the season, Winston showed something in the first half we hadn’t seen in the redshirt freshman — panic. Winston went through a 1-of-7 drought at one point as Auburn built a 21-3 first-half lead. Winston completed 9 of his final 10 passes for 117 yards with two touchdowns, including the game winner.

Turning point: Chris Davis’ pass interference
With 21 seconds remaining, Florida State was down to its final two plays on third and 3 from the Auburn 5. Winston made the situation tougher with a delay of game penalty. Davis, who ran back the missed field goal to beat Alabama, was flagged for a clear pass inference on the ensuing play to move FSU up to the 2-yard line. Winston completed the game-winning touchdown pass to Benjamin on the next play.

Unsung hero: Auburn punter Steven Clark
More than month of dissecting this game and how often was Auburn’s punter mentioned? With help from his coverage team, Clark twice pinned Florida State inside its own five. The first pinned FSU at its own 2 to set up Auburns’ first touchdown after a three and out and 22-yard punt return from Chris Davis. Clark landed five of his six punts inside the 20 while averaging 43.2 yards per kick.

Needed more from: Auburn’s defense on the final drive
Beyond the pass inference call on Chris Davis that helped set up the touchdown, Auburn’s defense had major lapses on the game’s decisive drive. The Tigers’ secondary missed tackles on Rashad Greene on a 49-yard reception that put FSU in scoring range.

Critical call: Florida State’s fake punt
Winston looked lost for most of the first half as Auburn built a 21-3 lead. In a move close to desperation, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher called for a fake punt at his own 40. The Seminoles converted on the Karlos Williams’ run and scored a touchdown to finish the half. The Seminoles outscored Auburn 31-10 after the fake punt.

Stat that matters: 723
With 723 points in 2013, Florida State broke 2008 Oklahoma’s FBS scoring record of 716 points.

Three snap judgements

• Tre Mason was the best player on the field. Winston was rightfully the player of the game, but Mason may have had the best game of anyone in the title game. Mason rushed for 195 yards and the go-ahead touchdown with 1:19 to go on 34 carries. All this against a run defense that ranked sixth in fewest yards allowed per carry.

• Auburn’s was defense up to the task. Before the lapses on the final drive, the story of the game was Auburn’s defense. Ellis Johnson’s D was considered one of the weak links in this game, but the Tigers flummoxed Winston early. Beyond Rashad Greene, none of Florida State’s talented receivers made a major impact in the first three quarters. Defensive end Dee Ford also finished with two sacks.

• The turnaround by Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin may have had the biggest turnaround of any player in the game. Winston struggled to find him early or tried to get him the ball in traffic. Benjamin also didn’t help his cause with drops. Greene finished with nine catches for 147 yards, but Benjamin has key late. He had a 21-yard touchdown catch to move FSU to the Auburn 11 on one scoring drive in the fourth quarter before catching the game-winning score.

Armchair reaction
The biggest winner, other than Florida State, was ESPN’s Film Room. ESPN used nearly all of its platforms for a Megacast to varying degrees of success. The most welcome feature, at least according to the live-viewing Twitter audience, was the Film Room on ESPNNews. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst and Boston College coach Steve Addazio joined Tom Luginbill, Matt Millen and Chris Spielman to break down the game live using the All-22 camera angle. There were kinks for sure — perhaps too many voices and little of the typical play-by-play you’d get on a typical broadcast — but ESPN took note of the positive chatter. The Film Room was slated to be available on ESPN3.com after the game on ESPNU at 4 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday.

Teaser:
BCS Championship Game Rapid Reaction: Florida State 34, Auburn 31
Post date: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 - 00:52
Path: /college-basketball/notre-dames-eric-atkins-athlons-national-player-week
Body:

Notre Dame had been having enough trouble this season even with Jerian Grant.

The Irish’s normally stout homecourt advantage hasn’t even been in play as the Irish lost to Indiana State and North Dakota State.

Then came disaster: Notre Dame lost an eight-point lead in the final minute against Ohio State and the same week lost Grant for the season to an academic issue.

At least this week, guard Eric Atkins was there to salvage the season. Atkins scored 19 points and added 11 assists in a 79-77 win over Duke on Saturday to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.

The win gave Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, a former Duke assistant, the first win for a Blue Devils assistant over Mike Krzyzewski. But more important, the victory may turn the tide on the season.

"I think it definitely gives us a lot of life," Atkins said. "Everybody's confidence is up now after winning such a big game. I'm really happy for Coach Brey to get that one against Coach K. But for us I think it is going to jump start us."

Athlon Sports College Basketball National Awards: Jan. 6

National Player of the Week: Eric Atkins, Notre Dame
Atkins had 19 points, 11 assists and only two turnovers in a shocking 79-77 win at home over Duke on Saturday. Since Grant’s final game of the season, Atkins has shot 17 of 27 from the field in two games.

National Freshman of the Week: Marcus Foster, Kansas State
Kansas State has come a long way from the team that lost to Northern Colorado in its opener thanks in part to the development of the freshman Foster. With 17 points and eight rebounds, Forster led the Wildcats to a 74-71 win over shorthanded Oklahoma State on Saturday. Foster had 15 points earlier in the week in a 72-55 win over Atlantic 10 upstart George Washington.

Under-the-Radar Player of the Week: Devin Oliver, Dayton
Oliver hit a 3-point shot with 0.3 seconds left in overtime to give Dayton an 83-80 win at Ole Miss on Saturday. Oliver finished with 26 points on 11-of-14 to go with seven rebounds and five assists in the win over the Rebels. Oliver scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in an 81-47 rout of Winthrop on Wednesday.

Other Primetime Players

Xavier Thames, San Diego State
Thames sealed San Diego State’s 61-57 win Kansas on Sunday with four free throws in the final seconds. The senior guard scored 16 points against KU in the Jayhawks’ first non-conference home loss since 2006. One of the country’s breakout players this season. Thames also had 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting and five steals in a 71-61 road win over Colorado State on Wednesday.

Askia Booker, Colorado
Booker went a mere 3 of 10 from the field Thursday in a win over Oregon State, but he and Colorado couldn’t be stopped against Oregon. Booker scored 27 points in an 100-91 win over the Ducks, their first loss of the season. Booker went 8 of 16 from the field with seven rebounds and four assists. He’s also been near-automatic from the line, hitting 19 of 21 free throws in his last three games.

Semaj Christon, Xavier
Xavier’s top postseason awards candidate led the way through the Musketeers’ 2-0 start in the Big East. Christon had 20 points, eight assists and three steals in a come-from-behind 79-68 win over Butler on Saturday. He added 10 points against St. John’s on Tuesday. The most impressive stat: 16 assists, no turnovers for the week.

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown
Georgetown has dominated the rivalry with St. John’s, and nowhere was it more apparent as Smith-Rivera scored 20 points in the 77-60 win. Smith-Rivera finished with 30 points and six rebounds in the Hoyas’ sixth consecutive win in the series. Smith-Rivera added 12 points and eight rebounds in a 61-54 win over DePaul in the Big East opener.

Doug McDermott, Creighton
McDermott had his fifth 30-point game of the season with 30 — plus 10 rebounds and five assists — in a 79-66 win at Seton Hall on Saturday. He also completed a streak of 45 consecutive free throws with a miss late in the second half against Seton Hall. The national player of the year contender opened Big East play with 19 points and seven rebounds in a 67-49 win over Marquette on Tuesday.

Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
In what’s shaping up as a career year for the Lobos’ senior, Bairstow had a career night in an 80-73 win over Colorado State. The Australian forward matched a career high with 29 points and set a career high with 14 rebounds against the Rams. Bairstow also finished 13 of 20 from the free throw line.

Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
After decisive losses to New Mexico and Xavier, Cincinnati has been in need of a landmark win. Kilpatrick helped the Bearcats deliver on that with 18 points in a 69-53 win over Memphis on the road. Kilpatrick scored 11 of his points late as the Bearcats overcame an early deficit. The senior added 13 points and six points earlier in the week in a 65-57 win over surprising SMU.
 

Teaser:
Notre Dame's Eric Atkins is Athlon's National Player of the Week
Post date: Monday, January 6, 2014 - 12:45
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/11-reasons-you-will-miss-bcs
Body:

When the confetti canons launch at the Rose Bowl tonight, fans at home may want to launch into celebrations of their own that have nothing to do with Florida State and Auburn.

Goodbye, BCS. Hello, playoff.

Anticipation for the first playoff in college football playoff will dominate the entire season. BCS may as well be a swear word starting Jan. 7.

This is all with good reason. The BCS, for the most part, brought together some of the most ridiculous and cynical aspects of college football since 1998. College football continued to outsource its postseason to the bowls with the BCS organizers hoping a measly two-team, one-game playoff would be enough to preserve the system. The polls still played an outsized role in deciding the national champion, but the system still failed to satisfy fans. Politicking seemed to mean as much as the games.

History may judge the BCS as simply a stopgap between the old game and a new game. Maybe it will be a cultural curiosity worthy of a “30 for 30.”

For today, we think it deserves a tiny sliver of credit.

Reasons you’ll miss the BCS

The BCS finally brought us No. 1 vs. No. 2
For all its frustrations, the BCS was good for college football. The BCS set out to match up the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the polls (while preserving the crooked bowl system, but that’s another day). Before the BCS and its precursors the Bowl Alliance and Bowl Coalition, the top two teams in the country met in a bowl game only eight times between 1936-92. Before then, the Big Ten and Pac-10 champs went to the Rose, the SEC to the Sugar, the Southwest to the Cotton and the Big Eight to the Orange — the rankings be damned. As flawed as the selection process was, the BCS essentially guaranteed a winner-take-all national championship game.

The BCS (almost) ended split national champions
Split champions decided by competing polls. Ponder the absurdity: These coaches voted one team the best. These writers picked another one. And that’s that. They’re both champions. In two seasons in 1990-91, four teams claimed national championships. Same in 1973-74. Three teams have national championship banners from 1970. Three different teams have banners from 1964. In one 20-year period from 1954-74, 11 seasons featured split national champions. The BCS brought only one split national championship in 16 years when LSU won the BCS title and USC won the AP title in 2003. A bummer that year, but not a bad record overall.

The BCS standings usually got it right for the championship game
Fans often wished for “BCS chaos,” some sort of scenario where five undefeated or one-loss teams in major conferences at the end of the regular season would send the whole system crashing down. Such a scenario never would have guaranteed that result, and it never happened, anyway. The BCS finished its final decade without any major screw-ups for the title game matchup. But what about Auburn in 2004, you say? Three undefeated teams in one season meant someone was going to draw the short straw among the Tigers, USC and Oklahoma. At least Auburn was third in both polls and the computers that year. Feel free to argue about Oklahoma reaching the 2008 title game, but the BCS standings became a factor only because the Big 12 used the rankings as a tiebreaker among OU, Texas and Texas Tech for the South Division crown. Blame the Big 12. The SEC rematch in 2011 wasn’t ideal, but at least No. 2 Alabama delivered on its second chance against LSU.

The BCS intensified college football as a national game
Why would Auburn find it necessary to root against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game in 2013? Why would an LSU and Ohio State fans in 2007 suddenly become enthralled with the Big 12 title game and a Backyard Brawl involving a Pittsburgh team with a losing record. The BCS demanded fans take note of conferences, even if the debate usually ended with “my conference good, your conference bad.”

The BCS did have a playoff ... in conference championship games
Granted, this mostly took place in the SEC, but the game in Atlanta became de facto semifinals in 2013 (Auburn over Missouri), 2012 (Alabama over Georgia), 2009 (Alabama over Florida) and 2008 (Florida over Alabama). The Big Ten got into the action one year when a No. 1 Ohio State faced a No. 2 Michigan on the last regular season day of 2006.

The BCS forced the Big Ten to modernize
Speaking of the 2006 Ohio State-Michigan game — that matchup was played on Nov. 18 of that season. Michigan was still No. 2 in the BCS the week following the 42-39 loss. No. 3 USC and No. 4 Florida still had two games to play. USC lost its spot in the title game with a loss to UCLA on Dec. 2, but Florida defeated Florida State on the road and Arkansas in the SEC championship game. While Michigan was idle for two weeks, Florida had plenty of time to win (and talk) its way into the BCS Championship Game. The Big Ten decided to abandon its tradition of ending its season before Thanksgiving rather than risk being out of sight and out of mind again.

Conference expansion
An unintended consequence of the BCS was the realignment mess that defined most of the last 10 years, starting with the first ACC raid of the Big East for Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College through Louisville landing in the ACC in 2014. We learned university presidents will abandon rivalries, geography and accurately named conferences in pursuit of television money, but a handful of the moves aren’t so bad. Texas A&M and Missouri have been resounding successes in the SEC despite skepticism. Nebraska fits just fine in the Big Ten. And Louisville, TCU and Utah finally got into big-time conferences. Some programs may fall apart in their new conferences — West Virginia and Rutgers the top candidates at this point — but you can’t win them all.

Boise State, Utah and TCU gave upstarts a new goal
LaVell Edwards built one of the most consistent programs in the country in the 1980s, but the best BYU could hope for was the Holiday Bowl, no matter the Cougars’ record. BYU won a national championship in 1984 but lacked for great bowl matchups throughout that run. The major conferences eventually had to have their arms twisted to give non-automatic qualifying teams a chance. Boise State, Utah and TCU took advantage by going a combined 5-1 in the BCS, the lone loss Boise State defeating TCU in the Fiesta. Utah beat Alabama in the Sugar, Boise State beat Oklahoma in a classic Fiesta Bowl and TCU won the Rose Bowl. Sure, appearances by Hawaii and Northern Illinois were duds, but the BCS turned three programs into teams with national intrigue.

The BCS brought accountability in the coaches’ poll
With two-thirds of the BCS formula coming from polls, the BCS era brought greater accountability with the coaches’ poll. USA Today for the first time revealed the individual final regular season ballots for every coach. Accountability and transparency is a good thing, even if we learned coaches (or their surrogates) usually gave their teams a boost while voting for their own conference and coaching pals.

This...


...and this

Teaser:
11 Reasons You Will Miss the BCS
Post date: Monday, January 6, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/how-auburn-was-built-bcs-national-championship
Body:

This was not a typical year for Auburn.

That much has been well-established. Two improbable finishes and a record-setting SEC championship game landed the Tigers in the final BCS championship game.

Beyond the route to the title game, Auburn built its roster in a way unfamiliar to SEC schools in this recent championship era.

Alabama is a recruiting juggernaut with the luxury of allowing five-star prospects to languish on the roster until the bowl game (see: Henry, Derrick). Florida’s title teams first won titles on national signing day. LSU is routinely among the top five nationally in recruiting.

This year's Auburn team — similar to the 2010 team that won the title — doesn’t fit the profile of the typical SEC championship contender of the BCS.

The Tigers have nine 247Sports Composite top 100 prospects on their pre-game depth chart. Three of them are starters. Of those top 100 players, only three were five-star prospects. Two are freshmen, and none are first-stringers.

Those paltry numbers of high-level recruits are unheard of compared to the Alabama, LSU or Florida teams that won national championships since 2006.

Athlon Sports delved into each national championship depth chart, accounting for every name on offensive and defensive depth charts (plus starting kickers and punters) for the title game.

Related: How Florida State built its 2013 team

We charted their 247Sports Composite star rankings, their signing classes with either Auburn or Florida State and their home state. Here’s what we learned.

How Auburn’s 2013 team was built

• Auburn has only three first-stringers who were ranked in the top 100 as recruits, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings: center Reese Dismukes, offensive tackle Avery Young and wide receiver Quan Bray. Six others are backups.

• The Tigers have three five-star prospects on the depth chart and none of them are starters: Freshman defensive lineman Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams and junior wide receiver Trovon Reed. Lawson is the biggest contributor of the three, ranking second on the team in sacks (four) and third in tackles for a loss (7.5).

• Auburn did the bulk of its work in three states: Alabama (14), Florida (12) and Georgia (9). The signees from the state of Alabama, though, had the greatest rate of becoming starters, with 10 of them slated to start in the title game.

• That said, where would Auburn be without its Florida players? Heisman finalist running back Tre Mason is from West Palm Beach (Fla.) Park Vista and Ricardo Louis, hero of the Georgia game, is from Miami Beach Senior.

• Three junior college transfers and 10 players from the signing class of 2013 are on the Tigers’ two-deep. Auburn starts one from each category, and he’s a good one: Quarterback Nick Marshall.

• Auburn has two players on the depth chart from Tallahassee — safety Ryan White and wide receiver Melvin Ray.

• Gus Malzahn is winning with his own players to a degree. Only nine players came from the 2012 class, the only class signed while Malzahn was at Arkansas State. Curiously, seven of those nine play offense, including two offensive line starters.

*First-string players listed in parentheses.
 

Signing Class247 Star Rank247 Class RankState
2008-09:2 (2)3 (0)2009:22nd (9th in SEC)Alabama14 (10)
2010:14 (9)20 (10)2010:6th (3rd)Florida12 (4)
2011:13 (9)17 (11)2011:8th (4th)Georgia9 (5)
2012:9 (2)2 (1)2012:11th (4th)Louisiana2 (1)
2013:9 (1)NR5 (2)2013:13th (7th)Mississippi2 (1)

 

Teaser:
How Auburn was built for the BCS National Championship
Post date: Monday, January 6, 2014 - 06:15
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-weekend-preview-jan-4-5
Body:

Finals are finished. The holiday break has ended. And conference play is beginning.

Time for college basketball to take center stage.

The first two Saturdays of January have had plenty of eventful games -- last week brought us a meeting between undefeated Villanova and Syracuse, plus Kentucky and Louisville.

This week may be just as interesting. A showdown between two Big Ten contenders is the headliner in the league but not the only key game in the league. Lawrence, Kan., will host an intriguing conference game, but it might not be the best Big 12 game in the state of Kansas.

Those aren’t the only games this week. Here are our picks of the top games you need to keep an eye on Saturday and Sunday.

College Basketball Viewer’s Guide: Jan. 4-5

Game of the Week:
Iowa at Wisconsin (Sunday, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network)

An early matchup between Iowa and Wisconsin pairs two unlikely contenders for the Big Ten crown. Iowa has delivered — and more — on its promise to be one of this season’s teams on the rise, and Bo Ryan may have his best team in several years in Madison. Two intriguing storylines to watch: Iowa ranks 20th in the nation in possessions per game, and Wisconsin ranks 335th. Also, Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff will make his debut in Madison after transferring within the conference but not without some consternation. Uthoff is averaging 10.9 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Hawkeyes.

Interesting Non-Conference Game:
San Diego State at Kansas (Sunday, 4:30 p.m., CBS)

Kansas has pulled out of a funk in which it lost three of four games to Villanova, Colorado and Florida. The Jayhawks have returned to Lawrence to pick up three quality home wins over New Mexico, Georgetown and Toledo. A game against Mountain West contender San Diego State will wrap up a brutal non-conference schedule. The key in the last three games for Kansas has been the Jayhawks’ ability to spread the wealth beyond just Andrew Wiggins. The Aztecs may be the toughest opponent in this four-game homestand, though. San Diego State’s only loss came in the second game of the season to Arizona.

Tricky Road Trip:
Michigan State at Indiana (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS)

Michigan State rallied to outscore Penn State 39-16 in the second half of a 79-63 win Tuesday and turn around for a second Big Ten road trip, not an easy task when that trip is to Bloomington. Indiana is coming off an 83-80 overtime heartbreaker at Illinois, but point guard Yogi Ferrell showed he may be ready to carry the Hoosiers through the Big Ten season with 30 points against the Illini.

Trending Teams:
Oklahoma State at Kansas State (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPNU)

Oklahoma State will be without starting forward Michael Cobbins and backup point guard Stevie Clark in its conference opener. That hit on depth may hurt the Cowboys on the road against an Kansas State team that is starting to look like an NCAA contender. The Wildcats need freshman point guard Jevon Thomas (six assists, no turnovers in his debut vs. George Washington) to lift the offense in a major way.

Pressure Situation:
SMU at Connecticut (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPNU)

Opening American Athletic Conference play 0-for-Texas is not a good look. The Huskies already lost 75-71 to Houston this week and now face the better of the AAC’s Lone Star State team. Larry Brown has SMU in Tourney contention, but the Mustangs are also coming off a loss, to Cincinnati on Wednesday. UConn made our list of teams in the New Year that could be in trouble thanks to its its undersized lineup.

Game to Watch to Make you Feel Smart:
Oregon at Colorado (Sunday, 5 p.m., Fox Sports 1)

Neither teams are traditional Pac-12 powers, and neither have the same fanfare of No. 1 Arizona. But the Pac-12 may be the strongest conference in the country this season, and Oregon and Colorado are major reasons why. Three transfers (Joseph Young from Houston, Mike Moser from UNLV and Jason Calliste from Detroit) lead Oregon in scoring while Colorado continues to thrive with the inside-out duo of Spencer Dinwiddie and Josh Scott. Get to know both teams before March.

Others of Note

Cincinnati at Memphis (Saturday, noon, ESPN2)
Cincinnati has quietly won five in a row, including Pittsburgh and SMU. The Bearcats need a good showing on the road to be taken more seriously. 


Pittsburgh at NC State (Saturday, noon, ACC syndication)
T.J. Warren is a star (23.9 points, 7.8 rebounds), but we’re still not sure how serious a factor NC State is in the ACC race.

St. John’s at Georgetown (Saturday, 1 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
At 9-4 with a 10-point loss to Xavier on Tuesday, talented St. John’s is one of the nations big disappointments.

Butler at Xavier (Saturday, 2 p.m., Fox Sports Net)
Butler’s three losses have come by a combined seven points to Oklahoma State, LSU and Villanova. The Bulldogs and first-year coach Brandon Miller have our attention.

Duke at Notre Dame (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
Notre Dame’s famed homecourt advantage has been anything but this season, and now the Irish are without Jerian Grant. A rough first ACC season may start Saturday.

Virginia at Florida State (Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN2)
Looking for the No. 3 team in the ACC after Syracuse and Duke? How about Florida State? The Seminoles are stout on defense again.

Teaser:
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Jan. 4-5
Post date: Friday, January 3, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/10-college-basketball-teams-trouble-new-year
Body:

The New Year is a good time for optimism. Someone should remind these college basketball teams about that in the coming weeks.

They’ll need all the help they can get.

On Thursday, we picked nine teams that will be on the rise in the first weeks of 2014. This is the flip side.

Injuries, suspensions, arrests and weaknesses exposed in recent games mean a handful of teams enter conference play and the new year with a set of new problems.

Anyone expecting a repeat of Louisville and Michigan in the title game will be disappointed. Both teams are coming off of deflating news, both on the scoreboard and on the roster. Two of the heroes of the Final Four are gone — Chane Behanan is gone for good and Mitch McGary won't be back anytime soon.

Coaches Rick Pitino and John Beilein have plenty of talent remaining on their rosters, but like the other teams on this list, they'll spend the early part of the New Year grasping for answers.

Teams in Trouble in the New Year

Connecticut
Why: Size disadvantage starting to show itself
Shabazz Napier is a fantastic, fearless guard, but he probably should’t be leading a team in rebounding. UConn’s 9-0 start with wins over Florida and Indiana looked a bit of a fantasy, and now the cracks are starting to show thanks to UConn’s size disadvantage. The Huskies have only one regular taller than 6-foot-7 (6-9 DeAndre Daniels). In a 75-71 loss to Houston on Tuesday, Cougars forward TaShawn Thomas feasted on the matchup with 23 points and eight rebounds. Meanwhile, Daniels finished 3 of 10 from the field and center Amida Brimah played only four minutes. And this was against what’s not expected to be a great team in the American. UConn, which also lost to Stanford at home Dec. 18, will face two NCAA contenders in its next two games against SMU and Harvard.

Georgia Tech
Why: Robert Carter’s knee injury
Non-conference losses dimmed Georgia Tech’s hopes of challenging for the NCAA Tournament, but those aspirations may be finished with a knee injury to Robert Carter. Carter had been averaging 10.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. He could be out for the season, meaning even the NIT may be a tough goal to reach.

Gonzaga
Why: Injuries to Gary Bell Jr., Sam Dower and Kevin Pangos
Gonzaga was tentatively on the list of teams likely to improve thanks to the midseason arrival of Louisville transfer Angel Nunez, but that bit of good news is now a foot note. Guard Gary Bell Jr., who averages 12.7 points per game and is Gonzaga’s top perimeter defender, will miss 4-6 weeks with a broken hand. Meanwhile, Sam Dower has missed two games with a back injury, and point guard Kevin Pangos is playing through turf toe. Gonzaga defeated Saint Mary's 73-51 at home Thursday, a good sign for the depleted roster for now.

Louisville
Why: Finishing the year without Chane Behanan and Kevin Ware
Louisville is still ranked No. 1 in the KenPom.com ratings, but a handful of analysts already are giving up on the Cardinals’ ability to defend their national title. By losing to Kentucky on Dec. 28, Louisville completed its non-conference schedule without a true marquee win and now has a depleted roster. Chane Behanan ran out of second chances and was permanently dismissed from the team. Moreover, Kevin Ware won’t play at all this season as he continues to recover from the devastating broken leg from last year’s NCAA Tournament. Behanan was averaging 7.6 points and 6.3 rebounds, and Ware hand’t played at all. They’re not the worst losses Louisville could have endured, but the Cardinals are still struggling to get major contributions from Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock. The backcourt of Russ Smith and Chris Jones can’t do everything.

Marquette
Why: Duane Wilson redshirting
Marquette’s season hasn’t unfolded anything Buzz Williams would’ve hoped. The Golden Eagles were Athlon’s pick to win the Big East, but Marquette is 8-6 following a 67-49 loss at Creighton to open the conference season. Reinforcements won’t be coming, at least not from highly regarded freshman point guard Duane Wilson. The school announced last week Wilson would redshirt the season while he recovers from a stress fracture in his left leg. The Golden Eagles need all the help they can get on the offensive side of the court: Marquette ranks 117th nationally in offensive efficiency on KenPom.com and ranks 132nd in points per possession.

Michigan
Why: Mitch McGary out indefinitely
Replacing player of the year Trey Burke was hard enough — especially as Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III adapted to playing without the star point guard. Now, Michigan enters conference play without McGary, who is out indefinitely due to back surgery. Senior Jordan Morgan is poised to take over for McGary in the starting lineup, but that leaves Michigan still with a freshman point guard and without its best post presence.

Notre Dame
Why: Jerian Grant out for the season
Only days after blowing an eight-point lead in the final minute against Ohio State, Notre Dame announced leading scorer Jerian Grant would be suspended for the remainder of the season due to an academic issue. This is already a team that had lost Cameron Biedscheid to a transfer and lost to indiana State and North Dakota State at home in the non-conference schedule. Making things tougher: Notre Dame opens ACC play at home against Duke on Saturday.

Oklahoma State
Why: Michael Cobbins’ injury, Stevie Clark’s suspension
Oklahoma State’s top five scorers remain intact, but the Cowboys enter Big 12 play at Kansas State on Saturday with depleted depth. Forward Michael Cobbins was lost for the season Monday with a torn Achilles. He had been averaging 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds, but he had started every game this season. Stevie Clark probably won’t miss the rest of the season, but the freshman backup point guard was arrested for marijuana possession. Clark, who averages 7.0 points and 3.7 had already been suspended for four games earlier this season.

Utah State
Why: Jarred Shaw’s drug arrest
Utah State’s odds of reaching the NCAA Tournament might have been small to begin with, but the Mountain West hoped the Aggies would at least competitive. That’s going to be tough without Jarred Shaw, who was charged with felony drug distribution a week ago. Shaw averaged 16.1 points and 7.8 rebounds in the first eight games of the season, and Utah State lost 73-72 in their fifth game without him. Utah State may be on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament for three consecutive seasons, the longest such drought of the Stew Morrill era.

Teaser:
Michigan, UConn, Notre Dame have major concerns in January
Post date: Friday, January 3, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-podcast-florida-state-auburn-picks-and-more
Body:

The Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast returns after a brief holiday hiatus to talk about the three big stories in college football. The Texas job remains opens as the Longhorns (maybe) close in on candidates. David Fox and Braden Gall discus the reported list of finalists.

Penn State also opened up this week. Where does this job rank right now given the sanctions for the next few years, and what kind of candidates can Penn State hope to get?

After that, Fox and Gall delve into the national championship game. On paper, all the signs point to Florida State dominating. But there’s something about this Auburn team.

Finally, we share our hopes for the college football world in 2014 and react to a best names of 2013 bracket.

Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall or @DavidFox615 or email podcast@athlonsports.com. The podcast can be found on athlonsports.com, iTunes and our podcast RSS feed.

Teaser:
Talking vacancies at Texas and Penn State and making BCS title picks
Post date: Thursday, January 2, 2014 - 16:01
Path: /college-football/cotton-bowl-preview-and-prediction-missouri-vs-oklahoma-state
Body:

The teams in the Cotton Bowl will hope their final games of the 2013 regular season weren’t as bad as they looked.

Missouri matched Auburn for three quarters in the SEC Championship Game, a matchup that would have sent Mizzou to the national title bout. On the other hand, Missouri’s defense, the hallmark of the surprising season in Columbia, was non-existent that day, running out of steam in the fourth quarter. Missouri surrendered 677 yards, including 545 rushing, to Auburn in the Georgia Dome.

Earlier in the day, Oklahoma State looked out of sorts with the Big 12 title and a BCS bid on the line against Oklahoma. The Cowboys outgained Oklahoma by 42 yards, but allowed de facto third-string quarterback Blake Bell to put together a game winning drive in the final 19 seconds.

The letdown factor could be at play in Dallas, but it shouldn’t be.

For Missouri, this is another opportunity to prove the Tigers will thrive as an SEC program, if there was any lingering doubt after Mizzou won the East this season. Texas A&M thrashed its former conference foe Oklahoma in last year’s Cotton Bowl, and Missouri can do the same against a program it defeated only once in the final five meetings in the Big 12.

For Oklahoma State, the Cowboys lost two winnable games this season — the sloppy effort against OU in the Bedlam Game and a baffling loss to bowl no-show West Virginia.

Missouri vs. Oklahoma State

Kickoff: Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. Eastern
TV Channel: Fox
Spread: Missouri by 1

Three Things to Watch

Missouri’s huge receivers vs. Oklahoma State’s secondary
Unlike other teams in the SEC East, Missouri was able to overcome injuries at quarterback in part because of the top receiving corps in the confererence. Dorial Green-Beckham (6-foot-6, 225), L’Damian Washington (6-4, 205) and Marcus Lucas (6-5, 220) are all big bodies who combined to catch 24 of Missouri’s 30 touchdown catches this season. Oklahoma State finished ninth nationally in pass efficiency defense and fourth in interceptions, but the Cowboys’ also linebackers played a key role in defending the pass as eight of Oklahoma State’s 20 picks this season came from linebackers. Cowboys cornerback Justin Gilbert (six interceptions, two touchdowns) will be in the spotlight to make a game-turning turnover, but James Franklin, who will start the bowl, and Maty Mauk combined to throw only seven picks all year.

Clint Chelf vs. Missouri’s pass rush
Clint Chelf capped the 2013 regular season with his best two games of the season against Texas and Baylor and then one of his most lackluster since regaining the job against Oklahoma. Chelf went 19 of 35 for 200 yards wiht a touchdown and an interception and was a non-factor in the run game against the Sooners. Missouri’s bread and butter on defense was a pass rush that led the SEC at 2.9 sacks per game. The defensive front of Michael Sam, Markus Golden and Kony Ealy combined for 23 sacks this season. Chelf will seek a replay of the win over Texas in which the Oklahoma State quarterback used designed runs to evade the Longhorns’ elite pass rushers.

Big plays from Henry Josey
This is another meeting of strength vs. strength. Missouri running back Henry Josey averaged 8.9 yards on 48 carries in the final four games of the season, including a 65-yard run against Auburn, a 57-yard run against Texas A&M and an 86-yard run against Kentucky. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State allowed only three 30-yard runs all season, the fewest in the Big 12.

Key Player: Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State
The lasting image from the SEC championship game will be Tre Mason scampering for 304 yards and four touchdowns against the Missouri defense. Oklahoma State doesn’t have Auburn’s run game, but Desmond Roland is capable of putting up a big performance. He rushed for 219 yards and four touchdowns against Iowa State, 96 yards and three touchdowns against Texas Tech and 144 yards and two touchdowns against Oklahoma. The Cowboys may need something like that to beat Missouri.

Final Analysis
In many ways, Missouri and Oklahoma State is an ideal bowl matchup. Both teams have their share of strengths that will be up against a strength for the other team — Missouri’s receivers against Oklahoma State’s pass defense, Clint Chelf’s mobility vs. Michael Sam, for starters. The game has all the signs of a tight bowl matchup, especially compared to some of the other January bowl matchups. One thing worth remembering: Even through realignment, the SEC has won nine of the last 10 Cotton Bowl games — the exception being Missouri’s 38-7 win over Arkansas in the 2008 game.

Prediction: Missouri 28, Oklahoma State 24

Teaser:
Cotton Bowl Preview and Prediction: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
Post date: Thursday, January 2, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/9-college-basketball-teams-rise-new-year
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The change in the calendar isn’t really college basketball’s midpoint, but it is the most logical time for teams to take stock of what they have and turn the page as conference play begins.

Meanwhile, late December is the time of year where a handful of midseason transfers and freshmen become eligible (or ineligible. More on that tomorrow).

While many teams are undoubtedly improving as the season goes a long, a handful can take major steps forward in the coming weeks. Some are because a key freshman is about to enter the lineup or a midseason transfer is able to join the team. Some are younger teams starting to figure out rotations and starting lineups.

We’ve selected nine teams that look like they’re ready to take the next step into the new year.

Teams on the Rise in the New Year

Florida
Why: Freshman Chris Walker is eligible
Florida started the season as shorthanded as any team in the country, but that has changed in recent weeks. The Gators enter conference play with point guard Scottie Wilbekin back from suspension for the last seven games. The same goes for Virginia Tech transfer Dorian Finney-Smith, who missed only two games. Freshman point guard Kasey Hill has returned from injury. But the last piece is freshman Chris Walker. Coach Billy Donovan has tried to diminish expectations for a player who was just cleared to practice in December, but Florida is still slated to add an athletic 6-10 McDonald’s All-American sometime early in conference play.

Kansas
Why: Veterans emerging
The Big 12 is going to be more of a grind than most thought at the start of the season — Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Baylor also have hopes of winning the league, and Texas and Kansas State have surprised in the non-conference schedule. Maybe it’s a good thing Bill Self’s young team has gone through a gauntlet in the non-conference slate. Point guard Naadir Tharpe responded from his brief benching earlier this season to put up 20 points with eight assists against previously undefeated Toledo and 10 points against Georgetown. Memphis transfer Tarik Black emerged to score 17 points in 20 minutes against Georgetown on Dec. 21. Both are great signs for the Big 12 season. And this is still a team with two of the best freshmen in the country in Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.

Kansas State
Why:
Jevon Thomas is eligible
Kansas State has already improved through its non-conference schedule, losing early to Northern Colorado and Charlotte before defeating Ole Miss and Gonzaga in December. Thomas is still working his way into the lineup after returning to practice last week when he became eligible as a midseason transfer. Thomas may become Kansas State’s top point guard by season’s end.

Kentucky
Why:
Improvement in the backcourt
Saturday was the day Kentucky fans have been waiting for since the top signing class in college basketball history came together. The Wildcats beat Louisville 73-66 for their signature win of the season, but more important, they started to show what they can do when all the parts are playing together. Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison and James Young combined to score 29 of Kentucky’s 32 points in the second half against the Cardinals.

Maryland
Why: Seth Allen’s return
Maryland might not be an NCAA Tournament team, but the Terrapins at least have hope with the return of point guard Seth Allen from a foot injury on Sunday. Allen gave the Maryland offense an added dimension with three 3-point shots on six attempts in an 85-77 win over Tulsa and had only one turnover to three assists in 21 minutes.

North Carolina
Why: The return of Leslie McDonald
Befitting North Carolina’s up-and-down season, the Tar Heels may well end up on a list of teams on pace to improve and take a step back. The good news: The Tar Heels returned shooting guard Leslie McDonald after he missed nine games with an NCAA-mandated suspension. He’s 10 of 23 from the field and 8 of 17 from 3-point range in his first three games back, but he’s not even the top player Carolina hoped to get back from a suspension. P.J. Hairston’s career appears to be done after the Tar Heels abandoned hope of getting him back this season. Roy Williams will have to hope the finality of the Hairston decision will help his team move on.

New Mexico
Why: Cullen Neal and Deshawn Delaney in the starting lineup
First-year coach Craig Neal drew criticism earlier this season for giving too many minutes to a struggling freshman point guard. The point guard happened to be his son. Cullen Neal, though, has adjusted. He’s started the last three games, including a 24-point outburst in a win over Marquette. Junior college transfer guard Deshawn Delaney entered the starting lineup in the last two games and contributed 10 points and 10 rebounds against Marquette.

Oregon
Why: Dominic Artis and Ben Carter back from suspension
Oregon has started 12-0 despite missing Artis and Carter for the first nine games during an NCAA-mandated suspension. The Ducks are still working both into the rotation. Artis, the bigger impact player of the two, played only 11 minutes in an overtime win over BYU. Fellow point guard Johnathan Loyd has handled the point guard job just fine. Carter adds a little bit of depth to the forward position, but the Ducks already rank in the top 10 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage on KenPom.com.

Penn State
Why: John Johnson eligible
Penn State probably won’t threaten for an NCAA Tournament slot, but the Nittany Lions have the players to be a spoiler in the Big Ten race. Penn State already has high-scoring guards Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill and now adds Pittsburgh transfer John Johnson to the mix. The 6-1 guard from Philadelphia went 8 of 11 from the field for 20 points in his season debut against Mount St. Mary’s on Dec. 22.

Teaser:
9 College Basketball Teams on the Rise in the New Year
Post date: Thursday, January 2, 2014 - 07:00

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