Predicting the 2014-15 Freshman of the Year in Every NCAA Basketball Conference

In this era of the one-and-done superstar, Freshman of the Year honors in NCAA basketball are often followed by a fat contract offer from the NBA.

That puts a serious spotlight on the races for the award in conferences big and small, as even those first-year stars who stay in school will have put themselves one step closer to national acclaim.

The competition will be at its hottest in the Big 12, where Kansas’ Cliff Alexander is just one of the frontcourt superstars arriving this fall. The high-flying Jayhawk will raise echoes of Blake Griffin in the Great Plains, but will he be the best of a loaded crop of recruits?

Read on to see who could generate even more highlights than Alexander in Big 12 action, along with picks for the top freshman in every other Division I conference this season.

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US basketball reigns in Spain, awaits Rio Olympics

US basketball is at the summit and could soar higher, but Coach K knows danger always lurks

      
 

 

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Predicting Each Major NCAA Basketball Conference’s Leading Scorer in 2014-15

Some naysayers will tell you that the college basketball season is largely meaningless until the NCAA tournament field is selected every March.

Those people will most certainly not care who wins any particular conference’s scoring title, but that’s fine. We’re writing for a more cultured, intelligent crowd here.

Conference scoring leaders aren’t always on powerful teams that will win their league, but no matter the team’s fortunes, the player is almost always worth watching. Most of these nine players have the potential to bust out for 30 any night, and some may have to if their teams intend to make a deep run in the postseason. 

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NCAA basketball countdown: No. 38 Notre Dame

USA TODAY Sports breaks down the projected NCAA tournament field of 68.

      
 

 

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Where Does 2014 Team USA Rank Among America’s All-Time Best Basketball Squads?

This brand of Team USA basketball was better than you think.

Team USA capped off its perfect summer Sunday, treating Serbia to a 129-92 romping in the 2014 FIBA World Cup final, capturing gold in convincing fashion, leaving all talk of potential weaknesses behind.

Chatter about Spain, about Kevin Durant‘s and Paul George‘s departures, about chemistry, about slow starts—it’s gone. It all meant nothing. 

Though Team USA faced recurrent criticism for aspects of its roster, play and victories, legitimate resistance proved scarce. There was no competition, no actual threat. Team USA steamrolled opponents, winning each of its nine games by at least 21 points, cutting through every test with historical dominance.

Yes, this year’s squad has its place history. 

International play began gaining more popularity in 1992 thanks to the Dream Team’s gold-medal Olympics run. Here’s a look at how the average victory margin for this year’s contingent stacks up against every version of Team USA since then:

Only two of the other 12 teams finished their respective tournaments—be they Olympics or World Cups—with a higher victory margin. This year’s faction won games by an average of 33 points, which is the highest victory gap since 1994′s forgotten Dream Team II.

The gold-medal game solidified the most recent team’s standing further still.

Eight of the last 12 American teams have snagged a gold medal for their particular tournaments. Below you’ll see the margin of victory for each unit’s final win:

A mere one of the last eight gold-medal teams earned its neck swag with a bigger blowout. Not even the beloved and seemingly unparalleled 1992 Olympics crew unseated its final opponent (Croatia) by a wider surplus. 

Balance buttressed Team USA’s history-hewing display in the end. 

Offense was always a given. Coach Mike Krzyzewski had an abundance of firepower at his disposal, from Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving, to Klay Thompson and James Harden to Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins

Defense was a different story altogether.

These exhibitions aren’t recognized for their point prevention, but Team USA had known sieves on the perimeter in Curry, Harden and Irving, among others. There was cause for some concern at the beginning.

Then the games began.

Overloaded with athleticism and paint-patrollers up front, Team USA fielded one of the more successful two-way attacks, as Bleacher Report’s Jim Cavan explained ahead of the World Cup final:

As it’s proven throughout the tournament, the U.S. is simply too big, too fast and too deep for any team—no matter the poise or pedigree—to author anything more than a noble effort.

Make no mistake: Serbia has the weapons and wherewithal to make Team USA earn its spot atop the ceremonial podium. Unfortunately, it all adds up to so many knives in a nuclear fight.

Nuclear weaponry was brought in excess by Team USA.

As you’ll see below, Coach Krzyzewski guided one of the more well-rounded groups this time around:

Looking at points allowed per game specifically, only three of the last 12 teams had better defenses than this year’s assortment of NBA stars. This, again, despite housing defensive deficiencies galore (like Harden) who were seldom caught channeling their inner Paul George the way Kesha does her inmost P. Diddy in the morning.

Odder still, the defense compares more to its biggest rivals—the 1992 and 1994—than the offense.

Both the 1992 and 1994 outfits totaled at least 117 points per game, while 2014′s stable of talent finished scoring roughly 104.6 a contest. There was also a noticeable difference in shooting efficiency. 

Each of the last 12 American teams combined to average 52.7 percent shooting overall and 39.7 percent shooting from deep. While the 1992 and 1994 teams exceeded both marks, the 2014 aggregate found itself above the mean in just three-point shooting (40.1).

The only three teams to shoot above the USA’s total average for both categories were those in 1992, 1994 and 2000.

Ball control wasn’t a special distinction of this year’s band either:

Committing 13.7 turnovers per game left it slightly below the average for an American team (13.2) as well as worlds apart from the 1992 gang—the standard for Team USA greatness—that committed only 8.4 a night.

Similarities did exist in the way this year’s team spread the wealth. Five players averaged double-figure point totals in both 1992 and 1994; six players accomplished the same this year.

Such parity hasn’t been common through the last two decades:

Not one other USA aggregate had as many double-figure scorers as there were for 2014, further contributing to the top-flight balancing act we bore witness to this summer.

“No one cared about their statistics,” Team USA assistant coach Tom Thibodeau said after the World Cup final, per the Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson. ”They just cared about winning. And that’s what makes it special.”

To put this most recent performance in perspective, consider the average USA team has scored 101.6 points and allowed 76.1 since 1992. This year’s crop of gold-medal winners was above-average in both categories.

Feast your eyes on how the other American convocations fared: 

What we’re seeing here is pretty amazing.

Marks in the top-right corner are indicative of USA teams with above-average offenses and defenses. Only three of the last 12 units have had both: 1992, 1996 and 2014.

And therein lies the point.

The 2014 version of Team USA keeps coming back to 1992 or 1994, the foremost authorities on Olympics and World Cup basketball. And it did so without the same established star power.

Consider the number of All-Star selections every player on each roster combined for. Note that we’re talking about selections—not appearances—and that only honors prior to each tournament are accounted for:

This year’s team combined for the third-lowest number of All-Star selections. Young guns like Davis and Kyrie Irving, who haven’t been around long enough to earn more than one or two selections, headlined the docket.

These weren’t 10-year veterans. The 28-year-old Rudy Gay represented Team USA’s oldest player. Derrick Rose held the most All-Star selections with three.

Yet Team USA still went undefeated.

It still took home gold.

It still put itself in the company of the 1992 and 1994 squads—titans of international success.

It still managed to emerge as, at worst, the third-best USA team in recent memory, a titan of international success in its own right.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and the FIBA Archives unless otherwise noted.

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How Did FIBA World Cup Win Prepare USA Basketball for 2016 Rio Summer Olympics?

The United States scored a tournament-high 129 points on Sunday, easily outpacing Serbia’s 92 points en route to a gold medal at the FIBA World Cup in Spain. It was the club’s 63rd consecutive victory and secured the team a spot at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. Bleacher Report highlighted the win and Irving’s performance:

Team USA’s latest rout comes on the heels of gold-medal victories at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, the 2010 FIBA World Cup in Istanbul and the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. The faces have changed, but the unrivaled results remain the same.

And with the lessons learned this summer, those results may be remarkably similar come 2016.

Only two members of the 2012 Olympic team joined Team USA this time around, but that didn’t seem to affect the bottom line. Eight Americans scored in double figures on Sunday, and all but one member of the 12-man roster—Derrick Rose—scored in the contest. If this is a sign of things to come, the future of USA Basketball remains in good hands.

Much of the club’s continuity can be attributed to head coach and college basketball legend Mike Krzyzewski, the closest thing to a common denominator in all of USA Basketball’s recently sustained success.

Indeed, the United States took gold this time without a slew of the NBA’s most recognizable names—including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook, Paul George and others. One might have expected the Americans to take a step back without some of their most cherished weapons, but that was hardly the case.

In fact, Team USA managed to establish some firsts along the way after remaining undefeated during tournament play. ESPN Stats & Info and SportsCenter shared some historical stats:

Attempting to give credit where it’s due isn’t easy.

This was an ensemble effort drawing on major contributions from Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and—especially in the final—Kyrie Irving.

Even DeMarcus Cousins seemed to play with maturity that was—for him—unprecedented, especially against Serbia.

CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore writes:

The real story of the gold medal game, though, should be DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins…came in with Anthony Davis in foul trouble and made a huge impact. He protected the rim, disrupting all sorts of shots, crashed the glass and controlled the game. He also walked away from every brush-up and conflict, never overreacting to fouls or controls.

At the moment, there’s no telling which of those standouts will join the 2016 effort in Rio. Those decisions will be made by USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo in due time.

But the first takeaway from the United States’ adventures in Spain is that Colangelo should have some flexibility when making those decisions. Missing superstars had little impact on this squad’s fortunes, and that could pave the way for a slightly less star-studded affair two years from now.

Colangelo recently told USA Today‘s Sam Amick:

What we talked about (in 2006) was putting an infrastructure in place that could fend off a lot of things that would come your way.

It’s the depth that we have with our national team concept, that we would accept players from that national team, which is a fluid roster of roughly 28 players, a fluid roster that we would delete and add depending on who’s doing what and Select (team) players.

Irving, the latest hero, proves as much.

He was named the tournament MVP after making all six of his three-point attempts on Sunday. Through nine games, the 22-year-old averaged 12.1 points and 3.6 assists per contest—making him one of six players on the team to average double-figure scoring throughout the tournament.

Though the Cleveland Cavaliers point guard began cementing star credentials with MVP honors at the 2014 All-Star Game, he certainly doesn’t boast the kind of veteran or winning pedigree as some of those absentee floor generals—such as Paul or Westbrook. Performances like this one against Serbia will change that before long.

Faried was an even more unexpected difference-maker. The Denver Nuggets forward averaged 12.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game during tournament play. His unyielding motor translated into 3.9 offensive rebounds per contest and made him a perfect fit for the club’s up-tempo style of play.

I just love to play basketball,” Faried told reporters earlier during tournament play. “Every time I step on the basketball court, you never know it could be your last game, so I like to play my hardest in every game. When you love the game like that it tends to reward you back.” 

That passion for the game catapulted the 24-year-old to the forefront of a roster he might not have made had big men such as Griffin, Love or Aldridge participated this summer.

The other breakout star who likely earned himself a ticket to Rio was Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson.

Thompson averaged 12.7 points per game during FIBA play and converted on 52.3 percent of his field-goal attempts, including 41.5 percent of his team-high 5.9 three-point attempts per contest. To hear him explain his success in a journal entry published by The San Francisco Chronicle courtesy of Rusty Simmons, defense has also played a pivotal role. Thompson wrote in August:

I thought I was competing for a spot on the team from the beginning, because there were so many good wing players. I think I earned it by the way I showed up every day.

I think my shooting ability helped – especially being able to stretch the floor in the international game – but I think my defense was the key. I’ve competed on every possession and proven that I can guard multiple positions. 

These are Krzyzewski types through and through, hard-working players who’ve made names for themselves on a global stage while their respective NBA careers are coming into their own.

Perhaps the biggest revelation from this FIBA World Cup is that the United States boasts a wealth of leadership, even without MVP-caliber talent such as James or Durant on board. 

Colangelo and Krzyzewski should both take something away from that, crafting and coaching the 2016 roster with a profound awareness of just how deep the NBA is. Perhaps it’s time to rely on some motivated young up-and-comers rather than (or in addition to) the league’s most established names.

The ostensible crisis of U.S. leadership has paradoxically served to highlight one of the United States’ strengths: Its seemingly endless supply of top-shelf talent just waiting for an opportunity to shine.

“I like my team a lot,” Krzyzewski told reporters prior to the final. “I trust my team. … We’ve had a lot of interruptions and [these players have] never made any excuses. They should be in this position to play for a world championship.”

Earning that trust may not have happened overnight, but when all was said and done, this team positioned itself to take Rio by storm—with or without LeBron, KD, CP3 and those of their ilk.

There’s a strong case to be made that this was a learning experience all along. 

As CBSSports.com’s Zach Harper put it:

Since Jerry Colangelo overhauled the program following the embarrassment in the 2004 Olympics, USA Basketball has been about continuity, chemistry and growth with the youth of the roster becoming the stars of international basketball.

The FIBA World Championship, which has now become the FIBA World Cup, is the perfect situation to foster that growth with the young players and help them adapt to the attitude and professionalism expected of USA Basketball.

From that perspective, mission accomplished.

Here’s to hoping the guys who proved themselves in Spain aren’t crowded out by USA Basketball’s usual suspects in 2016. Some of those larger-than-life names will return to the fold, but we shouldn’t forget the lesser names who picked up their slack in a bid to win FIBA gold.

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Kyrie Irving, Kenneth Faried Named to FIBA Basketball World Cup All-Tournament Team

Team USA’s Kyrie Irving and Kenneth Faried earned All-Tournament Team honors of the FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sunday after shining throughout the nine-game event. The two Americans were joined by Pau Gasol of Spain, Nicolas Batum of France, and Milos Teodosic of Serbia. [ESPN NBA] The post Kyrie Irving, Kenneth Faried Named to FIBA Basketball World Cup All-Tournament Team appeared first on Basketball Bicker.

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USA wins basketball worlds, 129-92 over Serbia (Yahoo Sports)

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 14: The USA Men's National Team pose for a photo with the gold medals and the World Cup trophy after defeating the Serbia National Team during the 2014 FIBA World Cup Finals at Palacio de Deportes on September 14, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kyrie Irving made all six 3-pointers and scored 26 points, and the U.S. James Harden added 23 for the Americans, who made 11 of 16 3-pointers in a sensational-shooting first half, adding one final romp to a tournament full of them. The Americans were supposed to have All-Star forwards Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin, who all informed USA Basketball not long before the tournament that they would be unavailable. LeBron James, Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul might want to return for that.


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Kyrie Irving Named MVP of FIBA Basketball World Cup

Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving was named Most Valuable Player of the FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sunday, following a dominant effort in Team USA’s gold medal win against Serbia. Irving sparked Team USA with 26 points on 10-of-13 shooting (6-of-6 from three), four assists and a block. For the tournament, LeBron James’ new running mate averaged 12 points on 56 percent shooting, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals. The post Kyrie Irving Named MVP of FIBA Basketball World Cup appeared first on Basketball Bicker.

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Kentucky Basketball: Surveying Wildcats’ Chances with Top 2015 Recruits

With college football ramping up, basketball is trapped in its wake until season-opening events start taking place. Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness is one of the best of those basketball bacchanals, and it’s a night that recruits in attendance won’t soon forget.

Commitments throughout the class of 2015 are beginning to come fast and furious, but some of the elite prospects are still waiting. They’re planning official visits, hosting coaches in their own homes and, oh yeah, preparing to play their senior seasons of high school ball. They don’t want to discuss recruiting until April.

With Kentucky and coach John Calipari always in the mix for the best of the best, movement may be slow on many of their primary targets. Some players are open and efficient about advancing their process, seeking to end the distraction early. Many, however, leave precious few crumbs of information and are content to wait until season’s end if they see the need.

Read on for a look at 14 players who are most closely linked with UK, the recent developments in their recruitments and a purely nonscientific estimate of how confident Kentucky fans should feel about landing that player. (Bearing in mind, of course, that a 10 is impossible until a player has signed a letter of intent.)

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