College Basketball Nation: Jarell Martin

Position battles: Centers

May, 16, 2014
May 16
10:00
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CHICAGO -- Julius Randle is gone, but he wouldn't mind watching the Kentucky big men battle in the fall.

"Yes, there's going to be some competition," Randle said at the NBA draft combine in Chicago. "But Coach [John Calipari] will figure it out."

Randle wasn't going to return next season. He was a one-and-done player from the moment he arrived, looking like a chiseled NBA veteran. He was the one big man who didn't need seasoning. But the rest did. Toss in newcomer Karl Towns Jr., and the Wildcats have as many bigs as any team assembled recently.

Randle's favorite to replace his low-post ability? He's leaning toward sophomore to-be Dakari Johnson.

"He's very good in the low post," Randle said. "He's got a nice touch. It's hard to move him down there."

Randle should know. He had to tussle with Johnson in the low block in practice every day. Now, Johnson will take Randle's role as the player whom the others try to knock off in the post -- for position and, possibly, playing time.

ESPN.com is examining position battles this week. Here are some center battles to keep an eye on:

Kentucky: Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee versus Karl Towns Jr.: Yes, there are veterans -- three of them -- returning against the young pup. Calipari could figure out how to play all four of them at some point during a game. Johnson, Cauley-Stein and Lee all had their moments in which they shined. Johnson has the best chance to be in the low post, Cauley-Stein can be the top shot-blocker and Lee is a bit of an X factor among the group. Now, enter the newcomer. Towns can do a bit of everything, but he doesn't need to be the primary option. That's key for him and rare for a high-profile Kentucky player. This isn't even mentioning Trey Lyles and Alex Poythress, who are more positioned to play smaller forward positions next to the bigs. This team is loaded.

North Carolina: Kennedy Meeks versus Brice Johnson. Meeks is much more of a physical specimen. He can be immovable at times in the low post. Johnson has more finesse to his game. The two of them can play together, but they could take turns sharing the focal point in the middle, depending on the opponent or the flow of the game. They have a chance to both average double figures and nearly seven or eight rebounds per game. If that happens, the Tar Heels could be a force in the ACC and beyond.

Texas: Cameron Ridley versus Myles Turner. Ridley made himself into a real threat last season. He was nearly a double-double player (he averaged 11.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game). Ridley could progress even more next season. The Longhorns nabbed a late-recruiting season coup in Turner. Turner is too good, too effective to not be on the court. The key for coach Rick Barnes will be whether he can play the two as a tandem. If he can't, then who is on the court when the game matters most is more of a competition than the overall minutes. Regardless, both players can help Texas take a huge leap next season.

Gonzaga: Przemek Karnowski versus Kyle Wiltjer. Karnowski is the traditional post player. He can be difficult to move around, and his offensive game continues to develop. Wiltjer can certainly play with Karnowski because he's slender and is much more of a face-up player. The two can be an effective high-low tandem, but if there is a need to see who is on the floor late, then that is also, like with Texas, where the real competition begins. Wiltjer had a year to get stronger, but he won't turn out like Kelly Olynyk. Wiltjer is still going to be skill first, strength last. Karnowski needs to be the opposite for the Zags to find the right balance.

LSU : Jarell Martin, Jordan Mickey versus Elbert Robinson. The Tigers have a chance to make the NCAA tournament because of the decisions of Martin and Mickey. The two were effective double-figure scorers last season playing with Johnny O'Bryant III. Now, toss in the newcomer Robinson. He'll need to find minutes as well. Coach Johnny Jones can't play all three together, but the minutes will need to be divided up. These are good problems to have, and with 15 fouls to expend among the three, the Tigers are one of the few teams in the SEC with the numbers to hang with Kentucky's frontcourt.

Arizona: Kaleb Tarczewski versus Brandon Ashley. Tarczewski was one of the most improved players in the country last season. Give him another summer and he should really be a regular to score in the post. But he has to command the ball even more next season without the presence of Aaron Gordon. Ashley is coming off a foot injury that sidelined him for the second half of the Pac-12 season. He will play with Tarczewski, but if there is any question who would demand more minutes, then that can be a highly competitive battle in practice. It might be moot for coach Sean Miller since the two can coexist, but dividing up the frontcourt minutes will still be an interesting decision for the staff.

Tip sheet for the Tip-Off Marathon

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
12:00
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The ESPN College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon is here, and with all due respect to Oregon's far-flung win over Georgetown in South Korea on Friday (and UConn's nervy victory over Maryland in less-far-flung Brooklyn), the marathon always feels like the official start of the season.

Things are a little different this time around: The festivities begin at 7 p.m. ET Monday night and don't end until the 9:30 p.m. Champions Classic finale wraps late Tuesday. Check my math, but that's well over the allotted 24 hours of hoops. By the time we're done, it could be more like 30. Are you excited? You should be. Did you buy enough NoDoz to incapacitate a small farm animal? You should probably do that, too.

Before you run that errand, though, let's run through some of the things you need to know -- or should plan to watch for -- in this 2013-14 edition of the college hoops obsessive's nirvana. (Click here for the schedule. You might need that.)

Sneakiest good game: LSU at UMass, 11 a.m. ET, ESPN2. And not just because LSU coach Johnny Jones has one of the best freshmen in the country (power forward Jarrell Martin, the 11th-ranked player in the loaded 2013 class) making his debut. No, this UMass team -- which averaged a speedy 70.8 possessions per game last season -- is a lot of fun, and kicking off a crucial season for coach Derek Kellogg.

[+] EnlargeTyler Haws
Jason Szenes/Getty ImagesWatching BYU guard Tyler Haws in action is a good excuse to burn the midnight oil.
Worth staying up for: BYU at Stanford, 11 p.m. ET, ESPN2. With all due respect to the overnight games, I can't really recommend you ruin your entire week for any portion of the overnight slate unless (A) you're like me, and don't really sleep anyway, or (B) you're just insane. Recommending BYU-Stanford instead feels a bit like cheating, but oh well: Dave Rose has his most complete team of the post-Jimmer era, and wing Tyler Haws is well worth the price of admission, especially up against a good Stanford defense.

Under-the-whatever* player you should see: T.J. Warren, NC State. Last season, Warren was a hyper-efficient tweener freshman on an overstuffed NC State offense. This season he's the main attraction, and his first game Friday night -- 29 points on 13-of-20 shooting, with six rebounds, three steals and a block against Appalachian State -- provided a glimpse of what could be a monster offensive season. Warren and the Wolfpack go to Cincinnati at 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday night.

(*Note: It's only Nov. 11 and I'm already sick of "under the radar." I'm using this until further notice. Replacement suggestions welcome!)

Team that might be really good, but we just don't know: Baylor Bears (vs. South Carolina, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN). Super-talented? Check. Kept a would-be one-and-done (Isaiah Austin) on campus for his sophomore season? Check. Could be awesome? Sure! Could be thoroughly mediocre? Right.

Best 2013 NCAA tournament Cinderella: Florida Gulf Coast (vs. Hartford, 7 a.m. ET, ESPN2).

Second-best 2013 NCAA tournament Cinderella: La Salle (vs. Quinnipiac, 9 a.m. ET, ESPN2)

Best game: This one's a tie, which doesn't make it any less obvious: It's No. 1 Kentucky vs. No. 2 Michigan State, and No. 4 Duke vs. No. 5 Kansas, Tuesday at United Center. You're up to speed on this, right? You don't need me to elaborate, do you? No? Good.

Best non-Champions Classic game: No. 14 Virginia Commonwealth at No. 24 Virginia. Now this is an interesting question. As I see it, there are two viable options, both of which air on the Ocho ESPN2 opposite the Champions Classic. The first is the above, at 7 p.m. ET, followed by No. 10 Florida at No. 20 Wisconsin at 9 p.m. ET. At first glance, you might be inclined to take Florida-Wisconsin; those are the bigger "brand" names and probably more talented squads from top to bottom. But with Florida hobbled by injuries and suspensions, it seems less likely we'll get as good a game from the Gators and Badgers as we will at 7 p.m.

VCU at Virginia is a fascinating fixture. Not only are both programs pegged for big seasons, and not only could we witness the start of a nascent in-state rivalry, but the styles on display couldn't be more dichotomous. Virginia loves to slow the pace, take care of the ball, settle into Tony Bennett's pack-line defense, and generally play as cautiously and intelligently as possible. VCU loves to unleash havoc, press opponents, pounce on turnovers, get easy transition buckets and generally play as furiously and frustratingly as possible. Something will have to give.

Best thing about all of this: You can turn on your TV at any time between 7 p.m. Monday and midnight or so Tuesday and find basketball on the Worldwide Leader and its family of networks! Rejoice, rejoice. College basketball is finally here.

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