College Basketball Nation: Kendall Marshall

3-point shot: Drew II will start for UCLA

September, 12, 2012
9/12/12
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1. UCLA coach Ben Howland said that North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II will start at the point. “That’s going to happen,’’ said Howland. “He’s our most indispensable player.’’ Drew is getting a second chance at his college career after he was removed from the Tar Heels' starting lineup two years ago in favor of Kendall Marshall. Drew subsequently left the team in the middle of the ACC season. But he has won over the UCLA coaching staff and offered needed experience on the recent trip to China. The current eligibility issues surrounding Kyle Anderson make Drew’s role even more important. Anderson is considered an offensive possibility at the point, but is lacking on the defensive end.

2. Marquette sophomore Todd Mayo said the player who might have improved the most over the summer for the Golden Eagles is Vander Blue. “His jump shot,’’ said Mayo of what aspect of the junior guard's game has changed for the better. Meanwhile, Mayo shrugged off the firing of Marquette assistant Scott Monarch for an NCAA violation. “The team handled it pretty well,’’ said Mayo. “We’ve lost five coaches and Monarch is the last to go. We just looked at it as a business and there are consequences so we just keep moving forward.’’

3. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson is incredibly positive about the upcoming season. Anderson said last Friday that the summer tour the Hogs went on was a huge success. He also promised that the Hogs are ready to embark on playing his fastest 40 minutes of basketball, a knockoff of the 40 minutes of hell made famous by Anderson's mentor, Nolan Richardson. The SEC needs Arkansas to be a program of record again. If Anderson's good feelings are indeed borne out, it will give the league the depth that it so sorely requires, especially with the addition of two more teams this season.
ESPN.com’s Chad Ford wrote last week that the 2013 NBA draft list might be the weakest in more than a decade Insider (Insider Access required), thanks to a lack of top returning underclassmen and “a marginal freshman class.”

North Carolina won’t have four players go in the top 17, a la Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, John Henson and Tyler Zeller last week. But one Tar Heel is already projected as a top-5 pick, and a couple of others dot his top 100.

Of course, this is an early list, and plenty of players will drop and fall over the next 11 months. But here’s where the Tar Heels currently rank on Ford’s 2013 top 100:
4. James Michael McAdoo, sophomore forward

25. P.J. Hairston, sophomore guard

41. Reggie Bullock, junior guard

UNC redshirt junior Leslie McDonald, who missed last season because of a torn ACL, currently ranks 148 on Ford’s list. And it’s interesting to note that McAdoo is currently the only ACC player projected in the top 20. NC State’s C.J. Leslie comes in at No. 21, followed by Duke’s Mason Plumlee at No. 24. Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel currently holds the top spot.

Thoughts?

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
1. Kentucky coach John Calipari will be in Newark Thursday to see what he hopes is another record night. He has been touting a stat that is hard to beat: Every Wildcats starter for the past three seasons has been or will be an NBA draft pick. The only player that could be a question mark heading into Thursday is Darius Miller; but I expect him to go in the second round. The Wildcats will likely see five starters drafted in the first round: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague. Teague will go likely fifth among the playmaking group that includes Dion Waiters, Damian Lillard, Austin Rivers and Kendall Marshall.

2. Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said the Seminoles will surprise some people next season “like we always do.’’ FSU has had a few workouts and will have even more once the next summer session starts. Hamilton reports junior forward Terrance Shannon, who didn’t play after losing to UConn on Nov. 26 due to a shoulder injury, is coming along quite well. And Hamilton said the leadership out of big shot Michael Snaer and Ian Miller is already taking shape in offseason workouts. The Seminoles were a first-place ACC team in the middle of the conference season and ended up finishing 12-4, 25-10 overall before losing to Cincinnati in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

3. Replacing Mike Dunlap on the St. John’s staff may be as important as all the players Steve Lavin signed this year. Dunlap was hired because of his player development skills and the Red Storm will once again have a young roster. Lavin needs to find a strong candidate who can handle a similar role during a critical season for St. John’s. Lavin doesn’t need a recruiter in that position, he needs a coach who will be in the trenches and in the gym.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – As he looked around the locker room after North Carolina’s loss to Kansas in the NCAA Regional finals last March, forward Desmond Hubert couldn’t help but grow a little anxious about all the talent the Tar Heels would lose to the NBA.

But after playing additional offseason pickup games with his teammates, putting on a few more pounds, and gaining confidence in his still-developing hook shot, “I’m a lot more excited now than nervous.”

Which, the Tar Heels hope, is a good sign. Hubert, who averaged 4.9 minutes in 25 games as a freshman, will likely need to play a much bigger role on UNC’s front line next season, considering the losses of ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller and ACC Defensive Player of the Year John Henson to the NBA draft. (Both are expected to be first-round picks next week, along with fellow starters Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall.)

[+] EnlargeDesmond Hubert
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDesmond Hubert says he learned plenty during a freshman year of watching Carolina's stars at work.
Sophomore James Michael McAdoo, who came on strong late in the season, will start at one forward slot. Hubert, incoming freshmen Joel James and Brice Johnson, and also-sparingly used sophomore Jackson Simmons will be competing for the other starting spot -- as well as reserve minutes at both positions.

“I think some people are going to be surprised,’’ said Hubert, whose thin 6-foot-9 frame, expansive 7-3 wingspan, and Gumby-like defensive-mindedness have drawn plenty of comparisons to Henson.

“I know we’re going to be young, but we have a lot of talent. The freshmen coming in are really good. As soon as we start learning from each other, learning how to play together, to get rid of those early jitters and stuff like that, I think we’re going to be really good."

Hubert said he learned plenty of lessons from Zeller and Henson last season: timing, preparation, work ethic. But having to sit and watch wasn’t always easy, especially after averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds as a senior at New Egypt (N.J.) High.

“I remember playing a couple good minutes in one game [last season] … then not playing for two or three games in a row,’’ he said. “It was kind of hard. I guess that kind of hurt my confidence a little bit. But I had some great guys ahead of me, so at the end of the day … I couldn’t be mad or anything like that, because the guys ahead of me were just terrific guys.”

Plus, he said, he got to learn from those guys each day -- watching how Zeller sprinted down the court; emulating how Henson used his timing and reach to block and out-rebound bigger, broader opponents.

“When I first started practicing against them, it was really a one-sided match,’’ Hubert said. “And as the season started to go on, I feel like sometimes -- it didn’t happen many times -- but I could say there were a few times when I won out over Z or John. It didn’t happen very often, but it happened sometimes.”

Enough to take pride in, and build upon.

With Zeller and Henson gone, Hubert smiles and shakes his head at the fact that he’s now one of the “veterans” of the front line. But he’s working hard to set a good example.

By hitting the weight room often and eating up to six meals a day, he now weighs in at 220 pounds -- up from 193 when he first arrived in Chapel Hill last summer. A defensive specialist (he recorded 17 points and 37 rebounds, total, last season), he’s also been developing a go-to move: a right- and left-handed hook shot. Former Tar Heel forwards Rasheed Wallace, Marvin Williams and Deon Thompson have also taken him under their collective wing, offering tips and tricks and even more competition.

Now, Hubert is anxious about next season in a good way.

“When I first got here, I had no idea what I was in for, I had no idea what to expect at all,’’ he said. “… Now I feel like I’m in a position where I have to teach the freshmen that are coming in some of the things that John and Z taught me. I’ve got to be a major part of the team this year. It’s kind of different, but it’s a challenge I’m willing to accept. I’m kind of excited for it.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
The Afternoon Links are (intermittently) back, and they are exactly what they say they are. Some days will bring more than others. This is the offseason, after all. If you have a link you'd like included, your best bet is to hit me on Twitter. You can also e-mail your link to collegebasketballnation at gmail.com, or use the submission form here. Just don't expect me to call it a "bitmark."
  • It's no secret the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats were one of the most talented teams we've seen in recent seasons. Chad Ford's mock draft is confirmation enough of that fact. But one of the more underrated aspects of the Wildcats' success -- one we talked about a lot during the Final Four, but which risks being lost to history in the Anthony Davis narrative -- is how truly balanced Kentucky was. SI's Luke Winn decided to try to quantify this balance. How? Luke looked at the disparity in usage rate between the past 16 national champions' top five players, and graded that balance on the Herfindahl Index (a market-concentration metric which sounds complicated but provides a rather elegant number). Luke found that not only was Kentucky the most balanced title team of recent seasons, but the most balanced of any of the past 16 champions. One more remarkable fact considering the youth and talent in Kentucky coach John Calipari's lineup. (Oh, and in case you're wondering, the most imbalanced national champ of the past 16 years was the Carmelo Anthony-led 2003 Syracuse Orange. Anthony? Imbalanced scoring? Never!)
  • Basketball Prospectus' Drew Cannon spent the past week unloading 2012 player rankings list after 2012 player rankings list, and on Friday he concluded with his tally of 2012's 25 best. The most interesting selection? Colorado forward Andre Roberson comes in at No. 25, a testament to Roberson's Thomas Robinson-level pace-adjusted rebounding efforts last season. Cannon's top five returners for next season: Doug McDermott, Cody Zeller, Isaiah Canaan, Jeff Withey, and Roberson. It's going to be a wacky 2012-13 season, kids.
  • Probably the best image I've seen all week: A photo of former Purdue coach (and current St. John's assistant/mentor) Gene Keady tying the knot in Hawaii. That's all well and good, but the best part is the cameo by Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, pictured standing behind Keady with a lovely bouquet in tow. Weber as flower girl? Like I said, great image.
  • Speaking of Weber, Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez is sounding entirely thrilled about his new coaching staff. Good news, that.
  • Earlier this week, two doctoral students at the University of Georgia released a paper finding that schools who change conferences often see not only financial and exposure-related benefits but also, interestingly enough, an increase in the school's "ability to attract and retain high-quality students."
  • Beyond the Arc's Rob Dauster argues that replacing Kendall Marshall will be North Carolina's toughest impending task. I'd argue that replacing the core of UNC's excellence last season -- the interior rebounding and defense of Tyler Zeller and John Henson -- will be tougher, but the point is well taken.
  • Kansas fans were not entirely thrilled to learn Bill Self had scheduled a two-year home-and-home series with former Big 12 member Colorado, wondering why the Jayhawks would give a game to an upstart program that left the Big 12 in the cold during the first wave of recent conference realignment. Self, it turns out, has no hard feelings: “No one ever held Colorado responsible for them leaving the league. They did something they felt they had to do,” Self said. “There were so many rumors they could be left out in the cold, too. Everybody respected that without question. There are no hard feelings there. With the climate, the landscape at that particular time (summer, 2010), with all the talk about Texas, Oklahoma, A&M, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, all those schools going to the Pac-10 back then ... all the talk before that about Missouri and Nebraska going to the Big Ten ... Colorado was just making sure they had a conference affiliation. No hard feelings about that.”
  • Today's Jason King feature seeks insight on the difficulty of replacing a legendary coach -- a simultaneously unenviable and desirable task, because replacing a legend usually means taking over one of the nation's truly elite programs. As a complement, Andy Katz, Dana O'Neil and Myron Medcalf argued for which current top coach will be hardest to replace: Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Calhoun, or John Calipari.
  • If you're reading this post, you've almost certainly seen our writers' and analysts' poll of college hoops jobs rankings, as organized by conference. Yesterday, I ranked the top 10 jobs in the country. Myron and I debated that top 10 (and mostly the top two), I discussed my logic with y'all in a chat, and discussion elsewhere on the Internet has been robust and largely pleasurable.
  • Early in the week, King wrote a really fun piece about coaches who never played high-level basketball, and the unique challenges that background presents, while I listed some of the best former players turned coaches and O'Neil discussed the way the modern game has somewhat stifled coaches' once-outsized public personalities.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Last week, North Carolina senior Dexter Strickland was cleared to run. Soon, he thinks his doctor will allow him to jump and work on lateral movement.

By late August or early September, trainers are hoping he’ll be ready to return to the court and play basketball again.

And by the start of the season?

“I expect to play the point guard way more than I did last year,” he said Thursday, grinning as he met with the media.

[+] EnlargeDexter Strickland
AP Photo/Don PetersenAfter a serious knee injury Dexter Strickland hopes to be back before the start of the season.
Indeed, with last season’s Cousy Award winner, Kendall Marshall, preparing for the NBA draft and star prep ballhandler Marcus Paige not due to arrive on campus until later this month the onus is on Strickland, a combo guard, to take on more of a load at point guard next season.

But he has to get healthy first.

Last season, the New Jersey native was starting at shooting guard, backing up Marshall at point guard, and serving as the team’s top perimeter defender when his knee buckled on a drive to the basket January 19 at Virginia Tech. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the play, forcing reconstructive surgery several weeks later and sidelining him for the season.

“It was horrible,’’ Strickland said. “I really don’t like to think about it, talk about it. It was horrible. As soon as I Euro-stepped, I just felt it shift; the pain was -- I can’t really explain it, it hurt me real bad.”

What hurt worse, though, was having to watch his team play from the sideline. First during the postseason, when the Tar Heels lost in the NCAA Regional finals with Marshall also benched by injury.

And now.

“The most difficult thing is just being injured -- watching guys playing pick-up and not being able to play with them, not being able to work on my game and get better, as far as jump shooting and different dribbling drills and stuff like that,’’ Strickland said. “That’s been the most frustrating: not being able to be in the gym as I used to be.”

Day by day, though, he’s getting closer to coming back, sweating in the weight room and rehabbing in the pool. He’s also been spending plenty of time watching film of point guards, “guys who are very good at what they do” like Ty Lawson, Chris Paul and Tony Parker.

“I still see myself as a combo guard,’’ said Strickland, who didn’t start playing point guard until his freshman year at UNC. “I think I’ll always be a slashing guard, so I think there’s more room to grow, and there’s never a time when I stop learning or stop developing my game as a 2-guard or a point guard. I need to focus on whatever it takes to help my team win.”

Which means getting healthy, ASAP. After all, the only other point guard on the roster besides Paige next season is sophomore Luke Davis, who sat out 2011-12 after transferring from Gardner-Webb.

That’s one of the reasons Strickland thinks the Tar Heels will be underestimated.

“I feel like we’re going to an underdog a little bit, being that we lost John [Henson], Harrison [Barnes], Kendall, Z [Tyler Zeller], who were really key to our success,’’ he said. “I think we have something to prove. I think everybody’s thinking we won’t be as talented, we won’t be able to accomplish the same goals that we accomplished last season. And I think that gives everybody more motivation to be better.”

And to heal?

Strickland says he knows he won’t be 100 percent when he is cleared to return to the floor in a couple of months, but he hopes his speed and instincts come back quickly. He has been told he is recovering fast and is “on track."

UNC opens practice Oct. 12.

“I’ve come a long way,’’ he said. “I still have a lot to do with the rehab, of course, but so far it’s been good.”

BRIEFLY: Shooting guard P.J. Hairston sprained his right shoulder in a pick-up game about three weeks ago, but is expected to start playing again this weekend.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
1. Former North Carolina guard Kendall Marshall said he didn't know that he fractured his right elbow until six weeks ago despite the injury occurring on the same fall as his right hand injury against Creighton in the NCAA tournament. Marshall could not do contact drills at the Chicago NBA combine but he did shoot. He continued to say he wouldn't have been able to play in St. Louis but would have tried at the Final Four. UNC beat Ohio but lost to Kansas in the St. Louis regional. Marshall said he didn't want to hurt the team.

2. Marquette coach Buzz Williams said his schedule is set with the Ohio State game on a Naval ship off the coast off Charleston, S.C. According to Williams, this will be the toughest schedule he has had at Marquette with the OSU game, the Maui Invitational (Texas, UNC and Butler headline too), Wisconsin, at Florida, at Green Bay and LSU. Williams would feel better about the schedule if he still had the two players he was watching in Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom.

3. There was a banner missing at the UIC practice court Thursday. The Flames took down former Horizon League member Butler as the Bulldogs are off to the Atlantic 10 next season. But wow was that quick to respond. I would like to know how many other league teams have removed team banners this early when school is just finishing or the second semester recently ended.
The Afternoon Links are (intermittently) back, and they are exactly what they say they are. Some days will bring more than others. This is the offseason, after all. If you have a link you'd like included, your best bet is to hit me on Twitter. You can also e-mail your link to collegebasketballnation at gmail.com, or use the submission form here.
  • The Sporting News's Mike DeCourcy reminds us this summer is the first during which players enrolled in summer classes will be allowed to participate in two hours of coach-supervised skill instruction per week. (This is a helpful reminder in and of itself; I had totally forgotten about this rule.) As such, Mike prescribes "summer jobs" to a handful of players seeking to make the leap from good to great, including UCLA's Josh Smith, whose overriding goal should be what Louis C.K. once famously phrased "be less people."
  • Our old friend Diamond Leung caught up with Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis on the possibility of future mind-blowingly awesome Carrier Classic-type events, and the news was promising: "There is nothing solidified," Hollis told Leung. "We’re looking at the possibility of something in '13 in Florida. It’s difficult to tie one of those billion-dollar warships down two years in advance, but if we did so, we’d want to take it to Florida." Among the possible opponents Hollis listed was Notre Dame, and I agree with Mr. Norlander: Notre Dame may not be the most high-profile opponent ever, but when we're talking about a basketball game on an active U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, it doesn't really matter how high-profile the opponent is. (I'd watch the Jesuit boys school Jeff Van Gundy constantly references on NBA broadcasts, provided they were playing on an aircraft carrier. More aircraft carrier!)
  • When Kendall Marshall broke a scaphoid bone in his right wrist during the NCAA tournament, there was talk -- just talk, but it was loud enough -- about the possibility that Marshall could return to the Tar Heels in a week or less. As it turns out, that was never even remotely possible. In an interview with the IMG Academy, Marshall revealed that while his wrist is nearly 100 percent, "... what people didn’t know is that I also fractured my elbow." Marshall has been limited in his draft prep, but is hoping to be ready for full contact at the June NBA draft combine.
  • One of the defendants implicated in the San Diego basketball point-shaving scheme plead guilty Thursday in San Diego to conspiracy to commit sports bribery, conduct an illegal gambling business and distribute marijuana. He faces up to five years in prison and is one of 10 defendants involved in the case, and the whole thing is probably still going to get worse before it gets better, if that's even possible.
  • Kansas guard Elijah Johnson and Kansas State guard Rodney McGruder may be rivals on the court, but they have at least one thing in common: Both are currently recovering from surgeries (Johnson on his knee, McGruder on his foot) undertaken this spring after the conclusion of the 2012 season. Both were limited in their movements in a Memorial Day camp in Kansas City, but both appeared in good spirits, and Johnson is already talking about taking over for senior guard Tyshawn Taylor as his team's primary ballhandler next season: “That’s how I want to embrace it,” Johnson said. “I feel when they get down to the last couple seconds in the game, I want everybody to look at me and feel comfortable. I don’t want people to look at me and not know what kind of mood I’m going to be in tonight. I want my teammates to know that every night I am trying to take them all the way as far as I can, further than we went last year and try to be positive in any situation.”
  • Pat Summitt will receive the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama today -- the highest honor the president can bestow upon a civilian -- alongside Bob Dylan, Toni Morrison and a batch of other noteworthy folks. Well-deserved, to say the least.
  • Hot off the ESPN.com presses: Myron Medcalf laments and analyzes the latest nonconference scheduling trends, in which more and more schools are determined to avoid on-campus matchups in favor of exempt holiday tournaments and other less risky and less costly events. Andy Katz talked to coaches about the art of nonconference scheduling; it's a great look at the motives at work. (My bit on the rivalries I'd love to see survive conference realignment and remain as nonconference games came earlier in the day.) And in case you missed it over the weekend, Dana O'Neil chronicled the efforts of ESPN analyst Sean Farnham to create Hoops From Home, "a nonprofit organization that will bring free basketball camps coached and run by current and past NBA stars to the children of military personnel living on bases all around the world." Dig in, enjoy, you know the drill.
  • Non-college basketball break: There was the 32 and 13 line he put up, another in a lengthening list of amazing 2012 playoff performances, as well as the general athletic disadvantage a hobbled Heat team had over an even-more-hobbled Celtics squad, but it wasn't until LeBron James started laughing at Kevin Garnett's tough guy act that I knew the Celtics had no chance to win this series.
  • Basketball break: Joss Whedon wrote for "Roseanne?" True story! As someone who was 10 years old in 1995, it's easy for me to forget just how popular Roseanne was in the 1990s. But then I watched the first three seasons of "The Larry Sanders Show" on Netflix, and that helped me sort of figure it out. Speaking of which, "Larry Sanders" is the ultimate '90s pop-culture time capsule, from which I have learned two things: The ties were terrible, and the '90s were really weird. That's pretty much it.
Former North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall didn’t just break his wrist during his team’s NCAA tournament victory over Creighton. He fractured his elbow, too, he revealed in an interview with the IMG Basketball Academy Blog:
“My wrist is almost 100 percent. What people didn’t know is that I also fractured my elbow. That’s been the toughest thing for me to deal with, still not being able to go full contact. Hopefully, I’ll be ready to go by the Combine.”

Marshall, the pass-first sophomore who went on to win the Cousy Award, had to watch from the bench in street clothes and a wrist splint as his team beat Ohio, then ultimately lost to Kansas in the NCAA regional finals. After the season, he joined fellow UNC underclassmen Harrison Barnes and John Henson in choosing to leave school early for the NBA draft. Teammate Tyler Zeller, who graduated earlier this month, is also expected to be a first-round draft pick.

When did Marshall know he would be a pro? He told the website:
"The end of my freshman year of college. I felt like I was pretty good, but people started asking me after my freshman year if I was coming back. I was like, 'Where would I go?' It didn’t even occur to me."

In anticipation of becoming a pro, Marshall is working out at IMG academies. In the interview, he also addressed meeting President Obama, the best advice he’s ever received and playing against Duke. He had this to say about Twitter haters:
"In season, I get anywhere from 15-25 tweets per day of just pure recklessness. Keeping it PG, it’s stuff like 'You suck' and 'You can’t shoot.' Now, it’s 'You’re overrated' and 'You’re not going to get drafted high.' Even some Carolina fans come at me sideways now because I left school early. Maybe one every couple days I’ll give them a sarcastic response. You have to be able to laugh because these people don’t understand that you’re human and not on a pedestal."
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

UNC's John Henson chooses agent

April, 17, 2012
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North Carolina forward John Henson, the two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year who is leaving school early for the NBA draft, will be represented by Jim Tanner of Washington, D.C.-based Williams & Connolly LLP, the firm announced Tuesday.

Tanner also represents former UNC forwards Marvin Williams and Brandan Wright, among others.

"When looking for representation, I wanted to find a group that fit with my goals and personality," Henson, a junior, said in a prepared statement. "Jim and the team at W&C had a very specific and unique plan for me, and that was important. Overall, I just felt comfortable with them, and that they truly cared about my career."

This month, sophomore point guard Kendall Marshall chose Octagon to represent him in the draft, while senior forward Tyler Zeller hired Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports Management.

Sophomore forward Harrison Barnes, meanwhile, will be represented by agent Jeff Wechsler, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

All four starters -- who led the Tar Heels to the Midwest Regional Final in the NCAA tournament -- are projected as first-round draft picks.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.

The 2012 All-Tournament team

April, 3, 2012
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NEW ORLEANS -- It’s over.

The 2011-12 college basketball season wrapped up with a fascinating Final Four and national title game. Now, it’s time for some hardware.

Here’s my version of the 2012 All-Tourney team:

First Team

[+] EnlargeAnthony Davis
Richard Mackson/US PresswireAnthony Davis earned Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors after leading Kentucky to a national crown.
Anthony Davis (Kentucky): The Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player left his mark on college basketball by leading the Wildcats to the national title. He finished with 29 blocks in the 2012 NCAA tournament, No. 2 all time. Against Kansas, he became the first player to record 6 points, 16 rebounds, 6 blocks, 5 assists and 3 steals during an NCAA tournament game.

Jeff Withey (Kansas): The 7-footer blossomed in the NCAA tournament and really clogged the lane for the Jayhawks' defense. He was a big reason Davis finished 1-for-10 in the national championship game. Withey established a record for blocks in a tournament with 31 in this year’s installment.

Thomas Robinson (Kansas): The Wooden Award finalist didn’t go home with a ring. But he was crucial in his team’s run to the Final Four. The junior averaged 16.6 ppg and 12.5 rpg during this year’s tournament.

Doron Lamb (Kentucky): The sophomore’s 22-point performance (a game high) in the national title game was the culmination of an impressive run for the young star. He averaged 16.5 ppg during the NCAAs. Without Lamb, the Wildcats may have fallen short against the Jayhawks on Monday night.

Bradley Beal (Florida): The freshman fueled Florida’s run to the Elite Eight with a series of high-octane efforts. He had 21 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals during Florida’s 68-58 win over Marquette in the Sweet 16. He followed that with 14 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists in his squad’s Elite Eight loss to Louisville.

Second Team

Tyler Zeller (North Carolina): The ACC Player of the Year helped the Tar Heels stay alive when Kendall Marshall suffered a serious wrist injury that kept him out of an overtime win against Ohio in the Sweet 16 and a loss to Kansas in the Elite Eight. He had 20 points and 22 rebounds against Ohio and he finished with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks against the Jayhawks.

Draymond Green (Michigan State): The versatile forward started the tournament with a triple-double against LIU-Brooklyn. He had 16 points and 13 rebounds in a win over Saint Louis in the third round. Green also played some point guard in that game. The Spartans scored only 44 points in a Sweet 16 loss to Louisville, but Green ended his career with 13 points and 16 rebounds.

Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State): His team’s season ended when Kansas launched a furious comeback in their Final Four matchup Saturday. Prior to his nine-point effort that night, however, Thomas had scored 31, 18, 24 and 14 points, respectively, in Ohio State’s four previous NCAA tournament games. If he comes back for another year, the Buckeyes will be a top-5 preseason squad.

D.J. Cooper (Ohio): Cooper scored 21 points during his team’s upset win over Michigan in the second round. He had 19 against South Florida. And he finished with 10 points and six assists during an overtime loss to North Carolina. Now, his former head coach has a new job as a result of his performances in the NCAA tournament. He should send Cooper a check. Once he’s finished with school, of course.

Dion Waiters (Syracuse): He had 18 points in his team’s 75-59 win against Kansas State in the third round. And in a tight Sweet 16 matchup with Wisconsin, he went 5-for-11 and scored 13 points. The athletic guard is going to the NBA, but he put together a solid string of performances on his way out.

Other noteworthy performances:

Norfolk State’s Kyle O’Quinn put his program on the national map with 26 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks during the biggest upset of the NCAA tournament, Norfolk State’s 86-84 victory over No. 2 seed Missouri in the second round.

Royce White used the NCAA tournament as an audition for NBA execs. He had 15 points and 13 rebounds against Connecticut in the second round. And he scored 23 points and grabbed nine boards in Iowa State’s loss to Kentucky in the third round.

Aaron Craft is a thief. The sophomore had 16 steals for Ohio State throughout the NCAA tournament and solidified his slot as one of America’s greatest on-the-ball defenders.

Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum scored 30 points in his team’s 75-70 victory over No. 2 seed Duke in the second round.

Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, a 6-4 guard, scored just eight points in his team’s second-round win over Texas. But when the lights came on in the later rounds, Kilpatrick showed off his star power. He had 18 points against Florida State in the third round. And he finished with 15 against Ohio State in the Sweet 16.
Travis Releford Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThree of the Jayhawks' NCAA tournament wins this year have been by three points or fewer.
New Orleans -- Tyshawn Taylor sympathized with Kansas’ supporters Sunday.

The Jayhawks, he said, haven’t intentionally induced panic and meltdowns among their fan base via their dramatic NCAA tournament wins.

But they can’t seem to avoid them.

Unlike Kentucky, the squad they’ll face in the national title game Monday at the Superdome, the Jayhawks’ lane to New Orleans was littered with late-game obstacles that repeatedly threatened their postseason vitality.

“Walking that tight rope in March is OK because you survive and advance and that’s what it’s about,” Taylor said Sunday.

The Jayhawks don’t believe they’re playing with fire.

Instead, they choose to view their tight NCAA tourney wins as proof of their maturity.

Detroit didn’t give the Jayhawks much trouble in the second round.

But they needed a late turnover and an Elijah Johnson layup to escape Purdue in the third, after the Boilermakers held a 10-point advantage early in the second half.

They beat North Carolina State in the Sweet 16 by 3 -- again with Johnson's help in the final seconds. And even though North Carolina played without Kendall Marshall, Kansas led the Tar Heels by one with just fewer than 4 minutes to go in that Elite Eight matchup.

The Jayhawks’ comeback effort against Ohio State Saturday in the Final Four captured the squad’s entire postseason experience. Just when it seemed safe to assume the Jayhawks were on their way back to Lawrence, Kan., they finished strong and their opponents unraveled.

The Buckeyes led most of the game until a late run put the Jayhawks ahead in the final seconds. Even with the win nearly locked up, however, they still managed to create more suspense.

Taylor robbed William Buford on the in-bounds with 6 seconds left.

And then, he threw the ball away with 3.6 seconds to play.

“I don’t think I’m past the point of worrying. They tell me quite often, ‘Coach, next play. … We’re all right,’” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “But these guys do give coaches confidence because they have done it repeatedly. It seems like when it kind of looks like it’s not going our way the most is when, they kind of rise to the challenge and play their best.”

Dramatic victories have become the norm for the Jayhawks.

The Wildcats, however, didn’t play their first thriller until Louisville launched a second-half comeback that put them on the ropes in the final minutes of their Final Four win against their archrivals.

Kentucky is the only team that’s defeated the Jayhawks by double digits this season (75-65 Nov. 15 at Madison Square Garden in New York City).

But the Jayhawks said they’re a different team compared to the one that lost to Wildcats in their second game of the year.

They pointed to their climactic victories as a crucial factor in their growth.

“I know it’s crazy how we keep coming back, but all that matters at the end of the day is that we got the win. People feel like we got lucky to get here, but we still had to play those games and make those comebacks,” said junior forward Thomas Robinson. “We had to get those stops and that’s not luck, that’s us playing. I don’t like how it’s happened, but it’s happening here, so I really don’t care how we got here.”

Some squads fall apart under those conditions. But the Jayhawks tend to become more cohesive against strenuous circumstances.

It happened when they faced Purdue, North Carolina State and North Carolina in the NCAA tournament.

Players didn’t say that they anticipated a similar back-and-forth flow against the talented Wildcats. But if that’s the kind of game that unfolds, they believe they’ll benefit.

“If it comes down to a grind-out game, we’ve been in those situations before. Hopefully, it does,” said Travis Releford. “It would probably play in favor for us because, like I said, we’ve been in those situations before and we know how to handle it. So if it comes down to it, I think we’ll be prepared for it.”
After Tyler Zeller walked off the Edward Jones Dome court last Sunday, still stunned by his team’s 80-67 loss to Kansas in the NCAA Midwest Region final, it was hard to put into perspective what this North Carolina team’s legacy might be.

“We did win 30-plus games,” the senior 7-footer said. “I mean, hopefully it’s a good [legacy]. We had a lot of great players, we just came up a little short.”

UNC didn’t meet its goals of reaching the Final Four, of winning the NCAA championship. And with the loss of Zeller (who is graduating), plus fellow starters John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall (who announced Thursday they are entering the NBA draft early), this team leaves on a bittersweet note.

For some, it will always be the season of ‘What if?’ -- as in: What if Leslie McDonald, Dexter Strickland and Marshall had not been injured and in street clothes for that final game? What if Barnes had been able to make a few more shots? What if the Tar Heels hadn’t panicked in those final four minutes against the Jayhawks?

For others, it will be a season of unfulfilled promise -- a team chock full of NBA first-rounders that just couldn’t get it done.

And for still others, it will be remembered as a season of perseverance -- a group of players that came back from big losses and tough injuries, until they just couldn’t anymore.

For all, there will be memories -- some the players, coaching staff and fans will want to hold on to, some they might want to forget.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State vs North Carolina
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillUNC opened the season in memorable fashion, playing Michigan State on the USS Carl Vinson.
In that vein, here are 10 standout moments/happenings that shaped the season (in chronological order):

THE CARRIER CLASSIC: The final score (67-55 over Michigan State by the way) wasn’t what really mattered in the opening game.

Staged on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson, under the San Diego sunset, the game was about honoring the nation’s servicemen on Veteran’s Day, saying thank-you in the form of shots and dunks and camo-colored jerseys. All in front of President Barack Obama on 11-11-11.

After the final buzzer, the players stripped off those jerseys -- which also featured “USA” instead of their individual names -- and gave them to the Wounded Warriors sitting courtside.

"Hopefully I'll be coaching another 10 or 15 years,” coach Roy Williams said afterward, “but I think it's going to be hard to top this."

PANIC AND FREEZE: In 2010-11, UNC had been a team that thrived in late-game-situations. So when they panicked against UNLV in the second half on Nov. 26 -- allowing the Rebels a 14-0 run from which the Tar Heels never recovered -- then froze in the final five seconds at Kentucky about a week later -- inexplicably failing to call timeout after Henson’s shot was blocked with five seconds left -- it was a perplexing reminder that this team had some growing to do.

The UNLV loss pushed the Tar Heels out of No. 1 in the rankings, a spot to which they never re-climbed. The loss to Kentucky gave the Wildcats the bragging rights … and a bunch of folks hoped there would be a re-match in the Final Four. That will become another one of those ‘what-ifs,’ especially if UK wins the national title.

NINE-GAME HOME WINNING STREAK: Yawn.

Williams wanted to play Texas on the road instead of at the Smith Center, wanted some sort of test between Dec. 6 and Jan. 10. Instead, the Tar Heels got a nine-game home winning streak against the likes of Evansville, Nicholls and even ACC freshman-laden foe Boston College. It padded their record, but also their egos -- and set up the embarrassment that came next.

33 POINTS: UNC’s 90-57 loss at Florida State was so lopsided, so humiliating, that Williams ended up taking his team off the court early -- leaving three walk-ons and two freshmen to play it out and deal with the rushing crowd (the coach later said he didn’t mean to abandon the quintet).

Many analysts, and some fans, wrote the Tar Heels off during that Jan. 14 game, questioning their heart, their desire, their toughness. Until the end of the season (maybe even now), UNC kept the number '33' written on a board in the locker room, a reminder (and motivator) of what happens when you think it’s going to be easy, when you don’t play with focus and drive.

“That was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done in my life, because it was to the point where I never thought I’d leave a game early because we’d lost by that much, and they were going to storm the floor,’’ Zeller said in the days after loss. “And it was just something I hope to never experience again.”

LOSING DEX: What’s worse than playing in the most lopsided loss of the Roy Williams era? Losing a starter just three days later. It happened in the second half at Virginia Tech, when Strickland was driving toward the bucket and ended up on the baseline, screaming in pain.

UNC’s starting shooting guard/backup point guard/best perimeter defender was diagnosed with a torn ligament in his knee, and he became the second perimeter player sidelined, joining McDonald (out since the beginning of the season) on the bench in street clothes.

Sophomore Reggie Bullock filled in admirably at shooting guard, increasing his defensive focus while also burying shots. But from the beginning, Williams predicted that backup ball handler would be where Strickland was missed the most. And in the end, he was.

ZELLER BOUNCES BACK: Scribbled on the sidewalk outside the Smith Center prior to the Feb. 11 win against Virginia was a simple message: “Believe in Zeller.” Perhaps more importantly that game, the big guy believed in himself.

Just three days after a nightmarish loss to Duke -- during which Zeller missed two free throws, accidentally tipped in a Blue Devils shot, and was the defender on freshman Austin Rivers’ game-winning 3-pointer in the closing minutes -- the senior came back to record 25 points and nine rebounds against the Cavaliers. When he left the game for good, it was to a standing ovation.

“Z’s fine,’’ Henson said after the game. And Zeller was more than fine. That performance was the beginning of Zeller’s push to ACC Player of the Year honors.

REVENGE AT DUKE: This was the UNC team everyone had expected to see from the beginning of the season. Angered by the video board replay of Rivers’ game-winning shot at the Smith Center, the Tar Heels rushed to a 22-5 lead in the opening eight minutes of the March 3 re-match at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and ended up winning, easily, by 18.

This time, there was no hope for any comeback -- except for the Tar Heels, in the minds of those who had written them off.

“One thing that we talked about is people are going to put you on a pedestal to knock you down,’’ Marshall said after the game. “That’s what happens. We weren’t going to be perfect unless we went out and won every game by 30. That’s not what happened … we learned from our mistakes, we continued to get better. And now it’s all starting to come together.”

MARSHALL VS. NCSU: One dimensional? Bah.

The point guard proved he could do more than pass when he posted a career-high 22 points with 13 assists at NC State in late February. In the ACC tournament semifinals he took it another step: scoring when it mattered the most.

With 10.2 seconds left, on March 10, Marshall buried a bank shot -- making contact with Wolfpack guard Alex Johnson, who wanted a charge called. Senior Justin Watts sealed the win for his team (which was playing without the injured Henson) with a steal.

[+] EnlargeUNC's Kendall Marshall and Stilman White
Robert Willett/Getty ImagesWith Kendall Marshall injured, Stilman White got the start against Ohio in the Sweet 16.
But the NBA scouts had to be impressed with Marshall's points, especially since had already set the ACC record for assists in a season during his first conference tournament game. Later, when pondering his NBA choice, Marshall had to know it, too.

STILMAN WHO? He should have been more scared. Later, he even admitted it. Instead, starting his first-ever college game -- and in the NCAA Sweet 16, to boot -- freshman point guard Stilman White was calm. Even a little confident.

With Marshall sitting on the bench in street clothes, his fractured right wrist in a brace, White recorded six assists and zero turnovers in the Tar Heels’ overtime win against Ohio. It was the stuff those of cheesy made-for-TV movies. Only it was true. And it resonated.

“It was one of the great stories in North Carolina basketball,’’ Williams said of White, who finished with 13 assists and zero turnovers in two NCAA starts.

THE PAINFUL DECISION: Williams admits he got his hopes up the day after the Ohio win, when Marshall was able to practice a bit to see if he could possibly play in the Midwest Regional final against Kansas. “We got him to run up the court, pass and catch and dribble. Being a one-armed player, he was still pretty good,’’ Williams said.

The coach thought his starting ball handler might just be able to contribute in his specially-fitted brace … until Marshall walked into a meeting room Sunday morning, and it was too painful to pass, dribble and shoot.

Without him -- and with Bullock playing in a knee sleeve, Henson competing on a newly sprained ankle, and Barnes struggling to hit shots -- the Tar Heels panicked, then collapsed in the closing minutes to the Jayhawks, falling short of their Final Four goals.

In the locker room, there were tears and ice bags and laments for the moments that were. And the ones that might have been.

“You can talk about talent, talent, talent … but it was off the charts, what this team had to face,” Williams said. “And I’m really proud of our team.”

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
1. It’s really a shame that Kendall Marshall's last game was against Creighton in the third round and not Kansas in the Elite Eight. We never really saw the full potential of this Carolina team. Had Marshall been able to avoid injury then the Tar Heels would likely be in New Orleans competing for the title. But that’s the beauty as well as the cruelty of sports. Now Marshall is declaring for the NBA draft with John Henson and Harrison Barnes, too. Roy Williams has had three sets of elite teams in his brief time at North Carolina. Two of the three won titles in 2005 and 2009. This one was destined to win one, too. But it will always be remembered for what could have happened, instead of what they did -- finish a game short of the Final Four.

2. A decision on Butler going to the A-10 isn’t final yet, but all indications are that it’s still pointing in that direction. Butler was once in a league with Xavier and Dayton and with Saint Louis nearby it’s a slam dunk for basketball and the overall athletic department. The hurdle for the department would be to ensure that it’s not too much of an added cost for the non-revenue sports. A-10 sources and Colonial Athletic Association sources all said there was no truth to George Mason and VCU moving to the A-10, too. They’ve gone public with that, as well. The A-10 shouldn’t go to 16 anyway at this juncture. All it needs to do for now is replace Temple for Butler. If Charlotte were to leave for the CUSA-MWC merger then the A-10 can deal with that loss later.

3. Pat Kelsey took over the job at Winthrop in a surprising move since Kelsey had resigned from his Xavier assistant position to spend more time with his family last year. I spoke with Kelsey a few times and he legitimately feared that he was not spending enough time at home and that he was going to miss his children’s lives. Kelsey was deeply troubled by the death of his mentor, former coach Skip Prosser. But the year off did wonders for him. The hope is that he has his priorities set and can allow himself at a smaller, less intense school like Winthrop to stay grounded and keep the balance necessary in his life.

After winning the 2005 national title, North Carolina lost its top seven scorers -- but saw the youth-laden 2006 squad exceed expectations and advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

After winning the 2009 title, the Tar Heels lost their top four players -- and saw the 2010 team fail to even make the NCAA tournament.

Which way will next season's UNC team (which lost in the NCAA regional finals last Sunday) go, after absorbing the early departures of power forward John Henson, wing Harrison Barnes and point guard Kendall Marshall -- plus the graduation of ACC Player of the Year Tyler Zeller and reserve Justin Watts? Much will depend on cohesion, leadership and injuries, three things that didn’t go the Tar Heels’ way in ’10.

A few other very early questions to ponder:

1. Will James Michael McAdoo return?

The freshman’s father, Ronnie, said Wednesday that his son plans to travel home this weekend to discuss the situation (some mock drafts list him as a top-10 pick), but that right now, he expects the forward to be back in a Tar Heels uniform next season. McAdoo’s (6.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) return would be key, because with starters Henson and Zeller gone, he’ll have the most experience (and be to the go-to guy) in the post.

Defensive-minded forward Desmond Hubert should also get plenty of minutes, and should be helped by an offseason to put on weight and work on his offensive moves. UNC also adds two big guys in freshmen Joel James and Brice Johnson. And UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi is still looking for a new home; might he end up in Chapel Hill?

2. Will the ballhandlers adjust quickly?

Point guard, UNC coach Roy Williams has often said, is the most difficult position for a freshman to grasp, especially in the Tar Heels’ fast-paced system. But the onus will fall on McDonald’s All-American Marcus Paige -- a 6-foot-1 Iowa product who Williams called “a great floor general” -- to do so.

With limited options, he’s the favorite to start next season. But just as important will be his back-ups. UNC doesn’t just lose Marshall, but Stilman White, the former third-string freshman who had to start two NCAA tournament games after Marshall broke his wrist, and because Dexter Strickland suffered a season-ending knee injury in January. White will leave for a two-year Mormon mission after this semester. Strickland, meanwhile, is still rehabilitating after surgery, but said last week he hopes to be able to play again in about two months.

UNC will also have another ballhandler available in sophomore Luke Davis. After transferring from Gardner-Webb, he sat out last season as per NCAA rules, but has had a year to learn the system.

3. How are the knees?

While Strickland is still recovering, the good news is that shooting guard Leslie McDonald, who redshirted in 2011-12 because of reconstructive knee surgery last summer, was able to practice with the team in the final months of the season, and should be eager to get back to his sharpshooting ways come the fall.

With so many wings on the team -- McDonald, Strickland, Reggie Bullock (who took over as starting shooting guard once Strickland was injured), P.J. Hairston and incoming freshman J.P. Tokoto -- it will be interesting to see how the minutes are divvied out. But the shooting guard and small forward positions should be a strength, because of the experience and depth that returns there.

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