College Basketball Nation: Jerami Grant

Tournament-worthy Tuesday

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5

If the NCAA tournament comes anything close to what we witnessed during Tuesday night’s slate of 7 p.m. games, we’ll have a fulfilling end to the college basketball season.

This closing week of the regular season felt like the opening weekend of the tournament with upsets that will potentially upset the tournament bubble. A must-win for Georgetown ended with a 75-63 victory over No. 13 Creighton. A must-win for Baylor ended with a 74-61 triumph over No. 16 Iowa State. Georgia Tech contributed to the downward spiral of No. 7 Syracuse by pulling off a 67-62 upset.

No. 1 Florida and No. 25 Kentucky both needed second-half awakenings before pulling away for their respective wins.

No. 12 Michigan was the only team than made the outcome totally boring. The Wolverines secured the Big Ten title outright by pummeling Illinois 84-53.

Baylor and Georgetown played with the desperation of teams needing to solidify their résumés. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had the Bears in as an 11-seed before beating Iowa State. Tuesday’s win should just solidify their standing -- especially if they end the regular season with a win at Kansas State to reach .500 in Big 12 play.

[+] EnlargeBrady Heslip
Jim Cowsert/USA TODAY SportsBrady Heslip scored 18, including five 3-pointers, to help Baylor upset No. 16 Iowa State.
Eight of Baylor’s 10 losses had come to ranked teams, but the Bears changed that narrative by executing down the stretch. They held the Cyclones scoreless the last four minutes of the game.

Brady Heslip broke a 61-61 tie with his fifth 3-pointer of the second half and the Bears never trailed again.

Georgetown’s win over the Bluejays propels it into Saturday’s regular-season finale with another opportunity to impress the committee at No. 6 Villanova. The hot-shooting Hoyas jumped on Creighton from the beginning en route to shooting 54 percent from the field.

It was the defensive job they did on Creighton’s Doug McDermott that keyed their win. Though McDermott did score 22 points, he needed 23 shots to get there. The Hoyas held him to just six points on 3-of-10 shooting as they built a 42-28 lead at halftime.

McDermott got hot in the second half and led a charge that cut a 16-point deficit down to five with 1:34 left. But the Hoyas made five of six free throws and Creighton couldn’t muster another basket to close the game.

Syracuse’s fall from being a potential No. 1 seed in the tournament appears to be complete unless it can turn things around quickly. That doesn’t seem likely as the Orange lost for the fourth time in five games and suffered their second setback to a team in the lowest third of the ACC.

The Yellow Jackets were a perfect senior night opponent having entered the Carrier Dome as losers of their past four. But they were in control most of the game against a Syracuse offense that again struggled to score.

C.J. Fair delivered 28 points and Tyler Ennis added 18, but no other Syracuse player reached double figures. Guard Trevor Cooney went 3-for-12 from the field -- including just 1-of-7 from 3-point range -- and finished with seven points.

The Orange sorely missed the presence of sophomore forward Jerami Grant, who is nursing a back injury and did not dress out for the game. Grant averages 11.8 points and is their leading rebounder with 6.7 rebounds.

The loss dropped Syracuse one step closer to a full scale panic. Kentucky nearly joined them.

The Wildcats trailed Alabama 28-25 and were flirting with their first three-game losing streak in five years. Tied at 32-32 in the second half, they used a 9-2 spurt to take the lead for good en route to a 55-48 win.

It wasn’t an overwhelming show of strength for the Cats. They shot just 32 percent from the field, including a 1-for-11 outing by James Young, but they showed fortitude they didn’t have in the loss at South Carolina. Julius Randle's 11 rebounds powered a 41-27 advantage for Kentucky, which helped it outscore Bama 18-3 in second chance points.

No. 1 Florida made upset-minded South Carolina believe that it was headed toward paying another SEC fine. The Gamecocks knocked off Kentucky on Saturday leading their crowd to rush the court after the game. That drew a $25,000 fine from the league for violation of policy and another violation would have upped the ante to $50,000.

The Gators led just 28-26 at halftime and by four points at the under-12 media timeout. The Gamecocks’ confidence seemed to be rising with each minute they remained close, but Michael Frazier II put an end to that.

Frazier already had five 3-pointers in the half. He made six more over the game’s final 11 minutes, including his first of those six that ignited a 15-0 run en route to a 72-46 win. Frazier set a new school record with his 11 3-pointers, beating Joe Lawrence’s mark of nine set on Dec. 27, 1986. He also scored a career-high 37 points.

The Illini never really had a chance against Michigan. They held their previous four opponents to less than 50 points. The Wolverines scored 52 in the first half. They bombarded Illinois by shooting 11-of-14 from 3-point range and 67.9 percent overall from the field.

The win secured Michigan’s first outright Big Ten title since 1986. The Wolverines were the only ranked team that seemingly were never seriously challenged on Tuesday. That’s why, although the tournament is still two weeks away, the madness has already started.

I’m not sure who coined the phrase, "It’s not where you start; it’s where you finish." My guess it was a late bloomer of some sort.

Or Tyler Ennis.

[+] EnlargeJim Boeheim, Tyler Ennis
AP Photo/Kevin RivoliTyler Ennis is averaging 12.3 points and 5.4 assists per game for Jim Boeheim and the No. 2 Orange.
When the season started, we had basketball’s edition of the Fab Four, a quartet of supremely talented freshmen everyone was anxious to see -- Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins and Aaron Gordon.

As the season progressed, we’ve gone the opposite way of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” Instead of eliminating freshman phenoms, we keep adding them.

Like Ennis. The Syracuse point guard didn’t have quite the hype to make the first cut; instead he’s had the game to merit the late addition. He ranks fifth in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio, averages 12.3 points, 5.4 assists and 2.5 steals per game and, according to ESPN Stats & Research guru Ryan Feldman, is better when it matters most -- dishing out 14 assists to zero turnovers in the last five minutes of games.

Want to know why Syracuse is undefeated and ranked second in the nation? See above.

But being the latest addition is a lot easier than living up to the hype. If you aren’t on the early list, you can strive to make it. If you are, you worry about falling off. That’s where Parker comes in.

The Duke rookie was The Best Player Since (LeBron, Carmelo, you pick) until Wiggins reclassified and took over the tag (only to cede it to teammate Joel Embiid, at least for now). Parker has played under the glare of the spotlight, the weight of expectations and the enormity of the school name emblazoned on his chest for three months now.

By all accounts and statistics, he has handled it all masterfully. Parker averages 18.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game (third best in the ACC in each) and has had maybe two games that could qualify as off nights, a seven-point effort against Notre Dame that earned him a spot on the bench at the end of the game and eight against Virginia.

Now the party crasher joins the original invitee in what will be an epic clash at the Carrier Dome. Duke-Syracuse has enough subplots and storylines to fill a phone book as two historic programs embark on their new in-conference rivalry.

In reality, Ennis versus Parker won’t be a thing. Parker will more likely defend Jerami Grant or C.J. Fair, and the Orange play a zone, so who guards whom is irrelevant.

But since this season started, the freshmen have been a thing. Now that we are officially one month from March, it’s time to start seeing who finishes -- and not just starts -- strong.

Syracuse-Wake Forest observations

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- It seems like everyone else in Syracuse has wanted to talk about the Duke game on Saturday, judging by the 34,000-plus tickets already sold. For much of the first half against Wake Forest, it seemed the Orange were preoccupied thinking about that game too.

Syracuse looked very beatable. Like in a "How are they still unbeaten, and how are they ranked No. 2?" kind of way. The Orange shot 25 percent in the first half and allowed the Demon Deacons to hang around.

Their lead stayed within eight points even though they were dominating the boards and bothering Wake's shooters with their length.

Ultimately, though, Syracuse had Tyler Ennis and Wake Forest did not. And for the third time on the road -- along with Boston College and Miami -- the Orange turned an otherwise close game into a decisive win, this time prevailing 67-57.

“You’ve got to find a way to win these games and this team has been able to do that,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said.

[+] EnlargeEnnis
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonFreshman point guard Tyler Ennis has taken the leadership reins at Syracuse.
Here are other observations from the Syracuse win:

• This is without a doubt Ennis’ team now. That’s not a knock on how C.J. Fair has played this season, but Ennis gradually asserts his imprint a little bit more every game.

After shooting 0-for-6 in the first half, he went 6-of-8 in the second half, scoring 8 of 10 points during a run that kept the Orange in control of the game. Ennis had 16 of his game-high 18 points in the second half.

“Tyler Ennis played the game like a freshman in the first half, but in the second half he played like the senior that he is,” Boeheim joked. “When he got going, that was the difference in the game.”

• The first trip to Tobacco Road for Syracuse as an ACC member provided quite a surprise for Boeheim. Syracuse had a sizable crowd clad in orange among the 12,523 at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

“[Against Miami,] we had 4,000 but they all live down there. They’re from Syracuse,” Boeheim said. “I don’t know where these people came from. We go places like Philadelphia, Washington, we have people there. But here I was shocked.”

Boeheim at one time seemed to be reluctant in leaving the Big East for the ACC. He clowned around about potential restaurant options in Greensboro, N.C., where the tournament is often held, compared to the Big East in New York. But he even changed his tune there too.

“It was the best Italian dinner I’ve had in a long time,” Boeheim said. “Who would have thought? Winston-Salem.”

• If Syracuse rebounds the way it did against Wake, it will not only beat Duke, but have a chance to run the table in the ACC. The Orange entered the game with a plus-5 rebounding margin, but beat the Deacons 55-35 on the boards. Jerami Grant led the Orange by tying a career-high 12 rebounds.

“Our inability to rebound simply killed any kind of momentum that we were working hard to gain,” Wake coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “We would play pretty good defense, but we never finished the defensive possession.”

Trevor Cooney, who finished without a 3-pointer for just the second time this season, isn’t afraid of the big shot. The redshirt sophomore guard had missed his first seven shot and even passed up on a few open looks in the second half. For a split second, it seemed as though his confidence was shaken.

But Cooney’s jumper from the left corner extended the Orange's lead to nine points with 1:44 left, which was their biggest lead of the game at that time.

Syracuse is America's best team

January, 18, 2014
Jan 18

It’s not difficult to identify the strengths that make Syracuse such a stalwart contender.

Its elite playmakers -- Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant -- could all be millionaires in a few months. Its bench is packed with capable reserves.

Syracuse is long and athletic. Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone pushes opponents to the court’s margins, disguising the pockets of space as gaps while luring them into traps. They flood the lane.

Analytic stats, which allows one to label the effectiveness and potential of teams better than at any time in college basketball history, love the Orange.

Entering the weekend, the Orange had allowed just 25.0 PPG in the paint according to ESPN Stats & Information, third-fewest among power conference schools. They also possessed the ACC’s top offensive rebounding rate (41 percent) and its best defensive turnover percentage (Syracuse had forced turnovers on one-quarter of its opponents’ possessions in its first 17 games).

The polls love the Orange (second in the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls). Ken Pomeroy’s module loves the Cuse (No. 2 overall on, too.

[+] EnlargeEnnis
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsSyracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis has maturity and savvy that belies his youth.
The only mark against Syracuse is a strength of schedule that’s 14th among the BPI’s top-15 squads (91st).

That collection of numbers did not mean much to Boeheim as his team lost its lead during a 59-54 win over Pittsburgh in the Carrier Dome on Saturday.

Lamar Patterson missed five of his first seven shots but put up a few miracle 3-pointers in the second half that killed the vibe. His second clutch 3 put Pitt ahead with 6:02 to play.

Those shots allowed Syracuse's lofty numbers to be pushed aside for the oft-referenced -- and cliché -- eye test.

Everything we really needed to know about Syracuse was reaffirmed against the Panthers in the final minutes.

It wasn’t the team’s first bout with drama this season, as Syracuse encountered turbulence against Miami, Boston College and even St. Francis (N.Y.). But those were nothing compared to what beset the Orange on Saturday.

Pitt was roaring rapidly, as the Panthers nibbled away at a 10-point deficit in the second half that seemed like 30 in a low-scoring affair before taking the lead on Patterson's second 3-pointer.

That's when Ennis emerged.

There were his two layups that ultimately put Cuse ahead by three points with 32 seconds to play. His late free throws essentially sealed it.

He’s a freshman with a veteran’s vision, an assertive leader. He doesn’t panic -- he just goes.

The common theme among last year’s Final Four teams was their trustworthy point guards. Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke, Malcolm Armstead and Peyton Siva were critical players in their respective squads’ runs to Atlanta.

Ennis has that DNA, too.

In a significant league matchup, he belied his age with his effectiveness and poise, and did it with the game on the line.

Grant is a pro. He’s relentless on both ends of the floor, as his jump shot kicked off a 12-4 run that gave Syracuse temporary separation in the second half.

Fair finished with 13 points, six rebounds and three blocks in 40 minutes. Trevor Cooney secured a rebound off Cameron Wright's missed 3-pointer prior to Ennis’ crucial layup.

The Orange's defense picked up, too. That last 3-pointer by Patterson was his last field goal of the game, as he missed his final three shots due in large part to Syracuse's suffocating defense.

Boeheim has everything for an ACC and national title run.

Syracuse’s numbers were strong on Saturday. It shot 51 percent from the field and held Pitt to 38 percent shooting.

In the process, the Orange proved that they're a legitimate national title contender again and the team to beat in the ACC. Not simply because of what the stat sheet says but also based on the manner in which they closed the game.

Syracuse’s ACC slate will offer additional tests in the near future. There’s a highly anticipated game against Duke on Feb. 1. The Orange will travel to Pitt (Feb. 12) and Duke (Feb. 22) next month, and a road game at Virginia on March 1 should also be a challenge.

But on Saturday, Syracuse certainly passed the eye test.

Its grade? A. As in “America’s best team.”

Weekend Homework: Cuse vs. Nova again

December, 27, 2013
On the bus for a USA Basketball game a few years back, Jim Boeheim sat down next to Jay Wright and whispered a little secret. The Hall of Famer had gotten the drop on the Big East schedule, which by then was a convoluted mess thanks to the league’s gargantuan size.

Neither coach loved playing the other twice a season, but somehow the folks in Providence, R.I., usually conspired to make that happen, and Boeheim had just learned the two would tango twice yet again.

“You ought to call the league and complain,’’ Boeheim told Wright.

“And I’m like, ‘You’re in the Hall of Fame. You call,’” Wright said recently, recounting the story.

That Big East is no more, yet Villanova-Syracuse continues, this time because Boeheim and Wright wanted the game.

But what once looked like nothing more than just a nostalgic trip down the defunct conference’s Memory Lane is now something far more sizable. Saturday's 2 p.m. ET game at the Carrier Dome was supposed to be the undercard, the warmup to Louisville at Kentucky.

Instead, it’s the main attraction.

The Philadelphia Wildcats and the Orange, not the Kentucky Wildcats and Cardinals, are both in the top 10; Villanova and Syracuse each bring undefeated records, not the past two national championships.

Eighth-ranked Villanova might be the most unlikely top-10 team in the country, a squad picked to finish fourth in its brand-new league. But Villanova has earned its way to its ranking, not just on the backs of wins against Kansas and Iowa but by summarily dismissing everyone else. Throw out those two games (one won by four, the other by five in overtime) and Villanova is beating its opponents by an average of 21.7 points.

Still, understandably, questions linger, with folks curious if the Wildcats merely caught some Bahamian magic to win in Atlantis. And with the strength of the new Big East still uncertain -- no one else is ranked, though the teams do have pretty hefty RPI numbers -- those questions might not go away easily.

The date with Syracuse will help. While the No. 2 Orange may not have a litany of big wins -- Baylor and Indiana rank as the best -- anyone who has seen them play knows Boeheim has another special team. Tyler Ennis isn’t mentioned among the best freshmen in the country, but he ought to be. The point guard is nothing shy of superb, and has a terrific supporting cast in C.J. Fair, Trevor Cooney and Jerami Grant to help make him look good.

Yet what will make this game especially fun is that, unlike most nonconference opponents that go into the orange haze of 20,000-plus in the Carrier Dome like deer in headlights, Villanova won’t be intimidated.

The less-experienced, more-unsure Wildcats nearly knocked off the then-No. 3 Orange last season, and when, in 2006, the entire town of Scranton, Pa., joined the city of Syracuse to laud Gerry McNamara in his final game, it was Villanova spoiling the party, winning by 10.

“It’s going to be a test, another chance to show what we can do,’’ said Nova senior James Bell. “But it’s nothing new.’’

No, but then again this isn’t just another stroll down Memory Lane, either.

Maui win shows Syracuse's growth

November, 28, 2013

Nine days ago, you were probably reminded that Syracuse was playing a random home game on a Monday night in November well after the game had started and just before it finished -- and in hurried tones to boot.

Yes, last Monday night, Syracuse was losing -- not just casually trailing by a few points, but in full-on Defcon 1, might-actually-lose-this-game losing -- to Saint Francis at the Carrier Dome.

The whole thing was just kind of gross. The Orange were out of sorts offensively from their most experienced player (C.J. Fair, who scored seven points on 2-of-13 shooting) to their least (freshman guard Tyler Ennis, who posted a 37.0 offensive rating in a metric for which 100.0 is about average). The saving grace was a couple of late turnovers and transition buckets, but any concern Syracuse fans might have had about their team rebuilding a perimeter without Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland seemed justified. Random off night? Early-season flub? Or a shudder-worthy glimpse at the season to come?

After Wednesday night's commanding Maui win over Baylor, let's go ahead and put the latter option to rest.

[+] EnlargeJerami Grant
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsJerami Grant's 19 points off the bench allowed Syracuse to win gold in Maui on Wednesday.

The Orange's offense might not always be the prettiest in the world, but it is likely to be effective. The defense might not be as sturdy on the perimeter as last season, but it will still force plenty of bad shots -- and even more turnovers.

Ennis might not rank with the biggest freshmen in the game right now, but he has promise dripping out of his ears and is turning it into effective play more frequently with every game. Fair might not be a shoo-in for All-American, but he is beginning to find his footing -- beginning to play like a star.

Syracuse might not be perfect; it's certainly nowhere near the team that ground opponents into 2-3 zone pulp en route to the Final Four last season. But it is still a very talented team with a whole host of strengths, and one that still looks totally capable of winning the ACC in its very first season in the league.

Plenty of those traits were on display Wednesday night. Individually, Fair scored 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting against a long interior defense that had given opponents fits to date. Ennis didn't shoot it particularly well, but he did finish with 11 points and, more importantly, nine assists. And Jerami Grant, Boeheim's ace in the hole, contributed 19 points on 12 shots in crucial minutes off the bench.

Wednesday night was always going to be an uphill battle for Baylor, for reasons mentioned in "On Holiday" on Wednesday afternoon: The one thing Syracuse has done consistently this season is turn people over, and the biggest weakness for an otherwise good Baylor team is its propensity to cough the ball up. So it's no surprise that Baylor turned it over 20 times; that was the key difference in a game in which they made 26 of 47 from the field and 9 of 19 from 3-point range.

Perhaps most impressive, the Orange never looked like anything but eventual, codified winners Wednesday. They jumped out to a 10-2 run early, and while Baylor made its counters -- it knocked down several batches of 3-pointers, and even closed the lead to 68-62 with a few minutes to play -- Syracuse never panicked. The game never felt or sounded like it was in doubt, even when Baylor started making 3s. That's an impossible thing to quantify; it's an almost imperceptible quality. But it feels applicable here.

There is much to be done for Boeheim, no doubt. The Orange, like everyone else, have their warts. But a year after a Final Four appearance, after as deep a roster hit as Boeheim has felt in his recent run of uninterrupted success, Syracuse still has the look.

So ESPN’s College GameDay slate for 2013-14 is a beast.

There’s nostalgia, a chance at history, a few classic rivalries and a couple of meetings that could determine the hierarchy in top conferences.

The schedule, released by ESPN on Wednesday morning, is a tantalizing one for college basketball fans.

This is a stacked card without any filler, beginning with the Jan. 18 kickoff featuring La Salle vs. Temple at the Palestra. It should be a strong opening for GameDay, which will position its high-tech gadgets and cameras throughout a building that was constructed in the 1920s for the Big 5 rivalries in Philly. Perfect blend of the past and present. And that’s what preserves this game’s traditions.

Also, Digger Phelps, who is now healthy after a battle with bladder cancer, will be back with Rece Davis, Jay Bilas and Jalen Rose to enjoy this travel schedule:

2014 College GameDay Schedule

Jan. 18: Morning Show – Temple vs. La Salle (The Palestra); Evening - Louisville at UConn

Jan. 25: Michigan at Michigan State

Feb. 1: Duke at Syracuse

Feb. 8: Gonzaga at Memphis

Feb. 15: Florida at Kentucky

Feb. 22: Two options: Arizona at Colorado OR UCLA at Stanford

March 1: Kansas at Oklahoma State

March 8: North Carolina at Duke

Well, where should we begin? Here are a few thoughts on the GameDay schedule …

-- I think the most interesting game on the slate is the one that could shatter an NCAA record. Syracuse-Duke on Feb. 1 in the Carrier Dome should be a great welcome party for the Orange in its inaugural year in the ACC. And if the prognosticators are correct, it could break a record for on-campus attendance – assuming officials finalize plans to move the court to the center of the dome for the matchup. Officials: Please make this happen. Thanks.

Syracuse’s matchup against Georgetown in February, the final Big East meeting between the two teams, established the current NCAA on-campus attendance record (35,012).

But this goes beyond history. Both squads could be ranked in the top 10 entering the 2013-14 season. Multiple NBA prospects will be on the floor, including C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant, Rasheed Sulaimon and Jabari Parker. And Coach K vs. Boeheim doesn’t hurt the matchup’s appeal.

-- There’s been a lot of offseason trash talk between Michigan and Michigan State fans. On Jan. 25, the two national title contenders will begin to settle things when they compete at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. The Wolverines reached last season’s national title game. Michigan State will return the bulk of its team from last season. On paper, they’re even, in my opinion. Can’t wait to see this war.

-- And defending national champ Louisville will get a slot in a game at Connecticut on Jan. 18, the second matchup of GameDay’s opening slate. It will also be Louisville’s first and last appearance as a member of the new American Athletic Conference, which will soon become its former league as it moves to the ACC in 2014.

-- Andrew Wiggins, are you ready for GameDay? The crew will be in Stillwater, Okla., March 1 for Kansas at Oklahoma State. If these two teams live up to the hype, this game could play a pivotal role in the Big 12 title race. Same for Florida at Kentucky on Feb. 1 in the SEC. Yes, the Wildcats have the best recruiting class in history. But the Gators could snatch the crown, especially if Chris Walker is eligible.

-- Gonzaga will attempt to boost its 2-5 record against Memphis when the teams meet on Feb. 8. This has turned into a fun series over the past decade and the basketball-rabid fans of Memphis will have the FedExForum roaring for GameDay.

-- Ah yes, and the slate ends with one of the greatest rivalries in sports, North Carolina at Duke on March 8.

College GameDay just dropped the mic.

Feel free to get excited.

Bracket reveal: Maui Invitational

July, 17, 2013
Editor's note: Over two days, we're releasing the brackets/matchups for 11 of the top early-season events. A thread of previews and info for all 11 tourneys can be found here.

Tournament bracket for the EA Sports Maui Invitational

When and where: Nov. 25-27 at the Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii

Initial thoughts: The 2012 EA Sports Maui Invitational will be tough to top.

Chaminade’s stunning annihilation of Texas ... Rotnei Clarke’s buzzer-beater to lift Butler past Marquette ... North Carolina’s uncharacteristic display of mediocrity ... Illinois players hoisting the championship trophy after winning three games by an average of 23.3 points. Each game brought a new storyline.

This year’s event could provide similar drama. Although there is only one preseason top-10 team (Syracuse) in the bracket, the 2013 field is far from weak. Gonzaga spent time as the nation’s No. 1 team last season, Cal and Minnesota made the NCAA tournament, and Baylor won the NIT championship.

Each of those teams (with Baylor being the possible exception) should take a small step back this season, but all of them will still be solid and contend for NCAA tournament berths. In other words, there’s not a dud in this bunch, which leads me to believe that almost every game in this year’s event will be entertaining and competitive.

[+] EnlargeAndre Hollins
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireMinnesota will be counting on Andre Hollins to provide a scoring punch again this season.
Matchup I can’t wait to see: Minnesota vs. Syracuse. Event organizers couldn’t ask for anything better than a first-round game pitting two of the biggest names in coaching: Pitino and Boeheim. Ha-ha. Gotcha. This isn’t Hall of Famer Rick Pitino we’re talking about. Instead it’ll be his son, Richard, coaching for Minnesota against Jim Boeheim’s Orange. Richard is in his first season with the Gophers after being plucked from Florida International to replace Tubby Smith. Minnesota lost two of its best players (forwards Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams) to graduation, but guards Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins return in the backcourt and may be able to make this game competitive, especially since Syracuse is replacing a few key parts as well.

Potential matchup I’d like to see: Baylor vs. Gonzaga. Baylor shouldn’t have any problems beating Chaminade in the opening round and advancing to the semifinals against either Gonzaga or Dayton. The Flyers are always pesky, but I still think Gonzaga wins that game. Baylor and Gonzaga have faced off in two of the past three seasons, with Gonzaga winning both times by single digits. But I’d pick the Bears in this one. The Zags lost their top two post players (Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris), and Baylor’s strength is in the paint with Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, Taurean Prince and Royce O’Neale. Gonzaga boasts one of the country’s top point guards in Kevin Pangos while Baylor is searching for a replacement at that position following the graduation of Big 12 scoring leader Pierre Jackson. Still, Baylor’s overall depth in the backcourt is strong with experienced players such as Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin there to guide newcomers like Ishmail Wainright, Kenny Chery and Allerik Freeman.

Five players to watch

Justin Cobbs, Cal: Transfers are hit and miss, but things couldn’t have worked out any better when Cobbs left Minnesota for Cal a few years ago. The athletic guard averaged 15.1 points and 4.8 assists a game as a junior last season. He’ll be asked to do even more following the departure of leading scorer Allen Crabbe to the NBA.

Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Returning standouts C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant are more recognizable names, but no player in the Maui Invitational will be under as much scrutiny as Ennis, the freshman point guard who has been tabbed to replace NBA lottery pick Michael Carter-Williams. How Syracuse fares in the ACC and, ultimately, the postseason will depend heavily on how Ennis performs in his first season of college basketball.

Andre Hollins, Minnesota: Hollins led the Gophers in scoring last season with 14.6 points per game. His 41-point effort in a victory over Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantis was one of the top performances in college basketball all season. He should combine with Austin Hollins (no relation) to give Minnesota one of the more formidable backcourts in the Maui field. The biggest issue for the Gophers will be finding scoring down low.

Cory Jefferson, Baylor: The Bears power forward is fresh off a breakthrough season in which he averaged 13.3 points and eight rebounds a game. Jefferson was particularly effective in the postseason, when he averaged 21.2 points over a five-game stretch to lead Baylor to the NIT championship. The freakishly athletic Jefferson will combine with the 7-foot Austin and a bruiser in Gathers to give Baylor one of the nation’s top frontcourts.

Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: A point guard, Pangos ranked third on the Zags in scoring last season with 11.9 points per game and averaged a team-high 3.3 assists. He shot just 42 percent from the field, a number that will need to increase this season. The loss of leading scorers Olynyk and Harris (who combined to average 32.4 PPG) means that Pangos will likely be asked to score at a higher rate.

Title game prediction: Syracuse over Baylor

Baylor has the size, depth, talent and experience to hang with Syracuse, and winning the championship of such an elite tournament would be a huge momentum boost for a squad loaded with potential. Syracuse, though, is an incredibly difficult team to prepare for on short notice because of its unorthodox style. Even though they lost Carter-Williams, James Southerland and Brandon Triche, the Orange aren’t short on experience, depth or talent either. Fair averaged a team-high 14.5 points and seven rebounds a game for a team that reached the Final Four last spring. Grant showed flashes of brilliance when his minutes increased during Southerland’s suspension, and DaJuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita are poised for breakthrough seasons. They’ve proved they can excel at the highest level. Look for Syracuse to win an entertaining championship game.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Baylor over Syracuse
Jeff Goodman: Gonzaga over Syracuse
Andy Katz: Syracuse over Gonzaga
Myron Medcalf: Syracuse over Baylor
Dana O'Neil: Syracuse over Baylor
1. Lasan Kromah originally told George Washington he was returning as soon as the season ended. And then in late April he met with GW coach Mike Lonergan and athletic director Patrick Nero in late April and said he was leaving (once he earned his degree). He ended up landing at UConn Tuesday, where he’ll play for Kevin Ollie and former GW coach Karl Hobbs. Kromah was Hobbs’ best player when he was the head coach. As a freshman Kromah averaged 11.8 points a game, led the team in 3s (48) and had 62 steals. Kromah then injured his left foot and missed his sophomore season. The Huskies expect Kromah to be that seasoned, versatile guard who can create his own shot. He’s a decent 3-point shooter and has good size for a defender. Adding Kromah means the Huskies are even deeper in the backcourt with Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier and Omar Calhoun. The Huskies should be the top challenger to Louisville in the American Conference next season and a legit Top 25 contender. GW added Indiana transfer Maurice Creek to offset the Kromah departure.

2. Kentucky coach John Calipari said he went with a different approach since he had so many new freshmen in summer school. Instead of using the team workouts with the newcomers like he did last year, he is focusing on individual workouts to improve the skill level before the team starts to learn the dribble-drive offense. “It may hurt us early in the season but it will help us later,’’ said Calipari. Kentucky will play Michigan State in the Champions Classic on Nov. 12 in a matchup between two of the top 5 teams in the country. The Wildcats have eight newcomers next season.

3. Pitt guard James Robinson was a surprise cut of the final U-19 FIBA USA roster after winning gold in Brazil last year under Florida coach Billy Donovan. But he was a late add to the roster and flown to Prague to replace Syracuse’s Jerami Grant, who was suffering from mono. This could turn out to be a critical three weeks for Robinson heading into the season. Pitt will need Robinson to be an anchor for the Panthers, who join the ACC. Having the experience of competing against some of the best players in the world in his age group should be immeasurable for Robinson.
In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989 (Syracuse)

1. Carmelo Anthony (2003)
2. Derrick Coleman (1990)
3. Sherman Douglas (1989)
4. Billy Owens (1991)
5. Hakim Warrick (2005)

Sixth man: John Wallace (1996)

The rest: Fab Melo, Kris Joseph, Wesley Johnson, Andy Rautins, Jonny Flynn, Donte Greene, Demetris Nichols, Damone Brown, Etan Thomas, Jason Hart, Dion Waiters, Lawrence Moten, Conrad McRae, David Johnson, LeRon Ellis

[+] Enlarge Carmelo Anthony
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonCarmelo Anthony is one of the few former Syracuse players who have truly succeeded in the NBA.
Why they're ranked where they are: Syracuse cracked the top 20 largely due to the overall success of Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Coleman. Anthony is a future Hall of Famer and has plenty of time to boost his accomplishments. Coleman (16.5 PPG career average), an enigma throughout his time in the NBA, earned rookie of the year honors in 1991, made an All-Star appearance in 1994 and was twice named to the all-NBA team. Billy Owens and Sherman Douglas were decent pros too. And Dion Waiters, who averaged 14.7 PPG in his debut last season, could blossom into an NBA standout in the coming years -- and certainly could crack the Cuse top five in the near future. But let's be real: Syracuse squeezed into these rankings. Sure, the Orange boast 21 draft picks since 1989. Few, however, have actually succeeded at the next level. And there are multiple guys on this list who were projected to be stars but were ultimately professional letdowns. The Minnesota Timberwolves chose Jonny Flynn over Steph Curry with the sixth pick in the 2009 NBA draft. Curry led his team to the NBA playoffs this year. Flynn played in Australia. That’s why Syracuse stands at No. 20. Too many disappointments. It’s a surprising reality for a college program that boasts one of the game’s most fruitful legacies. Syracuse has earned most of its accolades, however, with players who weren’t admirable NBA contributors.

Why they could be ranked higher: Syracuse’s sheer numbers are impressive. Even though the program hasn’t produced many high-level professionals since 1989, it has sent nearly two dozen players to the league in that time span. Plus, the list features a bunch of young players who have been in the league for a short time, so their success is difficult to assess at this point. If this were a quantitative measurement alone, Syracuse might have a case for elevation. Producing one of the NBA’s best players doesn’t hurt its argument either. Coleman, Douglas and Owens held their own for years in the league too.

Why they could be ranked lower: If we’re real about this thing, then we’ll admit Syracuse hasn’t exactly been a factory for NBA talent since 1989, the year that the two-round system was implemented. After Anthony, there’s a major decline in the talent pool. And when you move beyond Coleman, you won’t find many players who competed at a high level for more than a few years in the NBA. Many failed to live up to the hype. Warrick averaged double figures for three of his first four years in the league, but the 19th pick in the 2005 draft has bounced around the NBA since then. The Timberwolves selected Wesley Johnson at No. 4 in the 2010 draft, when Greg Monroe, DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George were available. Johnson could be a solid role player with the Phoenix Suns, but he’s no star. Etan Thomas was the 12th pick in the 2000 draft. He averaged 5.7 PPG over a nine-year career. We had a lengthy discussion about this list. Trust me. Syracuse wasn’t a sure thing when that discussion started. Considering all the players who fizzled at the next level, I think Jim Boeheim's program is lucky to have a slot. Without Anthony, the Orange wouldn’t be on this list.

What’s ahead? There are still a few unknowns in the discussion about Syracuse’s NBA legacy. Anthony continues to grow as a player. He has scored 17,846 points in 10 seasons. And he just turned 29 this week. As I mentioned earlier, Johnson could continue to mature and play a more significant role in the future. Waiters is an athletic winger who had a strong year with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Is he a future All-Star? Maybe, maybe not. But there are a lot of talented prospects who failed to average 14.7 PPG in a season during their careers. The Boston Celtics envision a bright future for Fab Melo, a 7-footer who’s still raw. It’s also important to monitor the players who will enter the draft in the coming years. Michael Carter-Williams might be a lottery pick this summer. C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant could warrant spots in the first round next summer. The perception about Syracuse’s ability to produce NBA talent could change in the near future. There are still a variety of young players with the ties to the program who can’t be thoroughly analyzed at this point in their NBA tenures.

Final thoughts: There are a few ways to look at this list. Yes, Syracuse is at No. 20. That’s probably surprising considering the program’s stance as one of the most consistent and successful units in college basketball. Anthony, however, is the only true NBA superstar that the squad has produced since 1989. But I also think this list helps the Orange. Boeheim’s guys haven’t found a lot of success at the next level, yet the team is a perennial national title contender. That’s impressive. This is a specific barometer. It was not created to assess a program’s collegiate value. Syracuse’s consistency is notable, despite the struggles its players have had in the NBA. Still, the Orange’s standing in the league could change in the coming years. A number of players who are in the NBA now or will be in the league soon could push Cuse up this list and others like it. Right now, however, No. 20 makes sense.

Numbers to Know: Monday recap

February, 5, 2013
Player of the Night – Christopher Anderson, San Diego
Anderson’s game-winning reverse layup with 0.2 seconds remaining gave San Diego a 69-68 win at Loyola Marymount. He finished the night with 13 points, seven assists and seven rebounds, the first San Diego player to reach those totals in a game since Brandon Johnson five years ago. The 5-foot-7 Anderson has 14 rebounds in his past two games.

Freshman of the Night – Jerami Grant, Syracuse
Grant averaged only about 12 minutes per game in Syracuse’s nonconference schedule. But with James Southerland and DaJuan Coleman out, he’s played every minute of the past two games. On Monday, facing his brother Jerian, Grant had his best game as a collegiate. He finished with 14 points and six rebounds in Syracuse’s 63-47 win over Notre Dame.

Stat Sheet Stuffer – Phillip Crawford, Alabama State
Crawford hauled in 17 rebounds to go with career highs in points (29) and blocks (five) as the Hornets beat Mississippi Valley State 73-65. He’s the first player to reach those totals since Kyle O’Quinn did it over two years ago. He’s the first to do it in a non-overtime game since Marqus Blakely in 2008.

Scorer of the Night – Derick Beltran, Southern
Beltran scored a career-high 35 points in Southern’s 78-58 win over Jackson State. That’s the most for a Jaguar since Deforrest Riley-Smith’s 37 in 2007, also against Jackson State.

A breakdown of Syracuse’s 57-55 win at home over Cincinnati:

Overview: This started out as a sloppy Monday afternoon game. Both teams were coming off exhausting weekend victories. On Saturday, Syracuse defeated then-No. 1 Louisville in the final minute on the road, and Cincinnati topped Marquette without Cashmere Wright, who had suffered a knee injury.

They both struggled early in a sloppy first half of college basketball. How bad was it? At one point in the first half, Cincinnati was shooting 17 percent from the field, yet it was down by only five points.

The Bearcats settled for 3s against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone (4-for-18 in the first half). But the Orange's offense wasn’t much better (3-for-10 from the 3-point line).

It wasn’t, however, as though either team lacked effort. It was just a defensive battle. Syracuse’s length wouldn’t give Cincy much room. Cincy cut off the hose to Cuse’s offense by swarming its guards early.

Turning point: In the second half, both teams played much better. Sean Kilpatrick moved Cincy ahead with an early push. He’d started 3-for-10. That was one of the main reasons Cincy’s offense stalled in the first half. After halftime, however, Kilpatrick and the Bearcats were more patient with their passing and penetration. They shifted the Syracuse zone and found better shots. The result? A 12-2 run at the start of the half that gave Cincy a 30-24 lead. The Bearcats led 36-29 minutes later ... And then the shots stopped falling and Syracuse scored seven unanswered points to tie the game at 36 with 11:40 to go. The Orange bounced back from another seven-point deficit (49-42) and tied the game at 55 on Michael Carter-Williams’ 3-pointer with 1:11 to go.

Syracuse had the momentum, and C.J. Fair tipped in Jerami Grant’s miss with 22 seconds to go, giving the Orange a 57-55 lead. Wright missed an off-balance 3-pointer on the other end. Cincy missed another desperation shot at the buzzer. Game. Set. Match. Syracuse. “That wasn’t me, that was them,” Jim Boeheim told ESPN’s Jay Bilas after the game.

Why Syracuse won: Syracuse won with its relentless defense and dynamic guard play. It fought through multiple deficits in the second half until the Orange was even with Cincy in the final minutes. Then, they turned to their star guards: Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche.

Why Cincinnati lost: The Bearcats were quite inefficient on offense early. But their defense (10th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings) held strong and helped them avoid a sizable halftime deficit. In the end, however, they couldn’t get to the bucket and they continued to settle for tough field goals that wouldn’t fall. Offensive struggles doomed Cincy again.

Star(s) of the game: Kilpatrick had 36 points in Saturday’s 71-69 overtime victory against Marquette. He carried the Bearcats again Monday with 21 points. Carter-Williams hit big shots down the stretch for Syracuse. He recorded 16 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds and a steal.

Stat of the game: Cincy shot 18 for 55 from the field (33 percent).

What it means for Cincy: It means that the Bearcats can compete with the Big East’s best and contend for the league crown if they can get more offense from players not named Kilpatrick and Wright. Their limited inside presence will always put them at a disadvantage against bigger squads.

What it means for Syracuse: It means the Orange are going to be a handful for any team in the Big East and nationally. Syracuse's combination of length, athleticism and elite defense will cause many headaches for opponents the rest of the way. Boeheim’s squad can play with any team in America, if that wasn’t already clear when it beat Louisville on the road Saturday.

What’s next: Syracuse will play at Villanova Saturday. Cincy will face Rutgers at home Jan. 30.
Editor's note:’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on the Big East, click here.

Steven Adams, Pittsburgh: The highest-ranked incoming Big East freshman, the New Zealand big man has been hailed for his shooting toughness, passing skills and rebounding acumen. At Pitt, he'll just be a breath of fresh air after a forgettable season.

Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova: The true point guard will be even more critical for the Wildcats now that Maalik Wayns bolted college early. Savvy and skilled on both ends of the floor, Arcidiacono has only question -- his health. He missed much of his senior high school season after undergoing back surgery.

Omar Calhoun, Connecticut: The shooting guard is a top-notch scorer (had a tournament-record 26 points at the All-American Classic in April) who should help a depleted UConn roster rebuild and serve as a nice complement to Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier. Extra kudos for honoring his commitment, even after UConn's APR woes and penalties.

Jerami Grant, Syracuse: There is no shortage of room for Grant to fit in, what with the departures of Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo. The son of former NBA star Harvey Grant, he's a versatile forward who can score from just about anywhere -- which is good, since there will be plenty of open real estate on the Orange roster.

Ricardo Ledo, Providence: The shooting guard is supposed to be part of a one-two punch for Ed Cooley, but his counterpart, Kris Dunn, is recuperating from a shoulder injury. On his own, though, Ledo is a pretty impressive get as Cooley retools the Friars. He's ranked sixth at his position and should make Providence more than the Vincent Council show.

1. The USA men's U18 national team that will play in the FIBA Americas championship in Brazil later this month cut its roster down from 23 to 14 Thursday and there are a few names that fans will come to know next season. The incoming freshmen who will be instant hits on this roster -- so far -- are: Rodney Purvis (NC State), Sam Dekker (Wisconsin), Shaq Goodwin (Memphis), Jerami Grant (Syracuse), James Robinson (Pitt), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke), Montrezl Harrell (Louisville), Jake Layman (Maryland) and Joel James (North Carolina). The coaching staff was most wowed by Smart, but the most memorable name when this tournament ends could be Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes. Stokes should star for this team -- and for the Vols next season. He’s the only player on the squad who is currently in college.

2. The early departure of Butler to the Atlantic 10 has forced teams in the Horizon League to scramble in non-conference scheduling. Illinois-Chicago coach Howard Moore said Thursday that the Flames and other teams are searching for two more games at this late date. The Flames actually need four more games. One of the games the Flames had already secured is the opener against UC Riverside. Why is this significant? The Flames have Joey Miller -- who transferred from Eastern Illinois after his father, Mike Miller, was fired as head coach -- eligible immediately. Well, Mike Miller has now joined the Riverside staff and will be in Chicago for the opener, coaching against his son.

3. Former UConn wing Jeremy Lamb said he has been in touch with Ryan Boatright since his departure and that he has no doubt the perimeter of Boatright, Shabazz Napier and Omar Calhoun, with whom Lamb said he has played, will shine next season. Lamb also said he anticipates that Tyler Olander will be the anchor inside and can handle the chore of being the focal point in the post. No one should expect Lamb to trash his former team, but he was overly confident about the Huskies surviving the attrition that has hit the team since it was handed a postseason ban.