Michigan Basketball: Ranking U-M’s Most Important Role Players in 2014-15

Heading into the 2014-15 season, we know by now that the Michigan basketball program will be led by its core of Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr.; but they cant carry the team alone and that’s where the importance of role players comes in.

The Wolverines lost a lot of manpower from last season and will now have to make up for the loss of Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. With head coach John Beilein introducing six true freshmen and one redshirt freshman, several players will have to step up if Michigan wants to keep its successful string of NCAA tournament runs intact.

That said, here are the five most important role players (excluding LeVert, Irvin and Walton Jr.)—and ranked in order of importance—that must emerge for Michigan to have a successful 2014-15 season

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Ohio State Basketball: Most Important Games on Buckeyes’ 2014-15 Schedule

The Ohio State basketball schedule is officially out, and the Buckeyes will certainly have their hands full in a number of games this season.

The luxury of playing in the Big Ten is that strength of schedule is never really an issue when Selection Sunday rolls around. While the overall slate is difficult, there are a few games in particular that stand out as the most important contests. 

Factors such the conference standings, rivalries and building a strong profile were taken into account when determining the most important games. Let’s take a look at them.


North Carolina, Dec. 20 in Chicago

A home win over Marquette in November would certainly look decent on the Buckeyes’ tournament profile, and a win at Louisville would turn heads throughout the nation.

Still, the thought here is that the daunting atmosphere and the number of young freshmen head coach Thad Matta is breaking in isn’t a great formula for success on the road against Louisville early in the season. This means that the neutral-site game against North Carolina will be critical if Ohio State hopes to pick up a marquee nonconference victory for its resume.

Matta discussed this matchup and the event itself, via Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv and Zagsblog:

We are excited to be part of the CBS Sports Classic the next three seasons.The four teams competing have a tremendous history of success in college basketball. We have partnered with terrific cities and venues to make this a great experience for our program, our student-athletes and our fans.

Anytime you play against North Carolina, it is going to be circled on the calendar. We are talking about Tar Heel blue, Michael Jordan, Dean Smith and a storied history of national titles and overall dominance.

This year’s version won’t feature James Michael McAdoo, but Marcus Paige is back to wreak havoc on opponents. The athletic point guard could challenge for National Player of the Year honors and will be a significant test for young D’Angelo Russell before conference play begins.

Head coach Roy Williams also has Theo Pinson, Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and J.P. Tokoto at his disposal. However, the matchup to watch will be the Buckeyes guards against Paige. 

The guess here is that Matta uses Shannon Scott on Paige for most of the game. Scott will spearhead the defensive pressure this season and should make life a bit more difficult for Paige with his overall quickness and ability to stay in front of ball-handlers.


Michigan, Jan. 13 in Columbus

Ohio State versus Michigan is an important game every season, and the Buckeyes will be looking for some revenge after losing at home in the 2013-14 campaign.

This will be Ohio State’s best chance to establish its position in the Big Ten pecking order early because the conference is wide open behind Wisconsin. A victory over a relatively inexperienced Michigan squad would make a statement and let the rest of the league know the Buckeyes will at least contend for the No. 2 or 3 seed in the conference tournament.

Gone are Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary, which means the Wolverines will be particularly reliant on Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr.

Both shot better than 40 percent from behind the three-point line a year ago and will stretch the perimeter defense. Walton posted a double-double against Ohio State last year (13 points and 10 rebounds), so there will be even more emphasis on slowing down the point guard in this matchup.

Sophomore Zak Irvin and freshman Kameron Chatman will also play important roles in Michigan’s attack. The athletic and versatile forwards have the potential to cause matchup problems for most teams in the league, but Ohio State can counter with Sam Thompson and Keita Bates-Diop. 

This may be a game that the Buckeyes enjoy an advantage down low as well now that McGary and Jordan Morgan are no longer at Michigan. Amir Williams and Anthony Lee both have the potential to control the glass and the lane throughout this contest.


Wisconsin, March 8 in Columbus

This is Ohio State’s only game against the Big Ten’s top team this season, and there could be plenty at stake.

For one, if the Buckeyes have any hopes of winning a conference title, they will have to get past Wisconsin. Positioning in the Big Ten tournament and a chance to secure a marquee win right before Selection Sunday also make this game rather important.

Remember, the Badgers were an Aaron Harrison miracle three-pointer away from playing in the national title game last season and return the vast majority of their core. Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are all expected to play major roles for Bo Ryan’s squad in 2014-15.

That combination of Final Four experience and overall talent is a scary proposition for the rest of the Big Ten.

Kaminsky in particular could give Williams and Lee problems by extending his game beyond the three-point line. Lee is better suited to venture outside the paint than Williams, but stopping Kaminsky will be a team-wide effort. 

If the Buckeyes are able to do that, they may just secure a victory against a top-five team and the momentum that comes with that distinction heading into the NCAA tournament.


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The five most important players in the NBA

Eddie Johnson breaks down which players are most crucial to their team’s success in the upcoming season.



View full post on USATODAY – NBA Top Stories

Ranking the top five most important players in NBA

Eddie Johnson breaks down which players are most crucial to their team’s success in the upcoming season.



View full post on USATODAY – NBA Top Stories

The most important player on Team USA?

Davis was important anyway, but with changes in the roster, he became more valuable



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Cavs’ 9 most important games

Cleveland will be on national TV 29 times.



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Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell Will Be More Important Than Ever for Chicago Bulls

All of this summer’s attention has been on Derrick Rose and the new additions to the Chicago Bulls: Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. But a large part of their success in 2014-15 will depend on the performance of two recently overlooked wingmen. Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell need to come through.

Butler’s offensive production took a deep dip in 2013-14, as the time he spent working tirelessly on his shot last summer seemed for naught. His percentage from beyond the arc dropped from 38 in 2012-13 to 28 this past year. It’s possible that Butler’s defensive intensity has taken enough energy away from his legs to worsen his touch—many have called for coach Tom Thibodeau to not work Butler so hard.

At 38.7 minutes a game, Butler was tied with Carmelo Anthony for most playing time in the league last season. And his defense was terrific over each of those minutes, as he earned All-Defensive second team honors for the year. With an emergence from the lengthy, hard-nosed Snell, however, Butler might be able to take many more minutes on the bench and save some of his energy for a more balanced game.

Butler is likely to start between Rose and Mike Dunleavy Jr. to begin the season, but his job status may depend on how far Snell can progress. A Summer League standout, Snell’s sophomore year as a pro, and his second in Thibodeau’s system, looks to be a coming-out party of sorts. 

Snell could surge into a starter’s role by outplaying Butler—just as Butler did in 2012-13, outplaying a limping Richard Hamilton—but, alternately, he could end up starting next to Butler as opposed to in his place. Snell could certainly prove himself more valuable than Dunleavy at the small forward spot (especially as a defender), and he makes sense next to Butler. Thibodeau, alternately, may just move Dunleavy to the bench for more veteran solidity in his second unit. This could also put Snell into the starting spotlight.

Snell is mobile and long enough to challenge elite Eastern Conference wings like LeBron James, Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony physically. While he’s only listed at 6’7”, his wingspan is massive. The question will be whether he’s yet heady enough to keep up with the craft of such players. Defense comes first in Thibodeau’s world,  so Snell’s minutes will depend upon his ability to do so. Butler’s Iron Man marks are a testament to that truth.

Rose’s presence will make life much easier for both players, as will Gasol’s. Rose and Gasol’s abilities to create for themselves and mis-direct defenses will give Snell and Butler breathing room they haven’t yet seen as Bulls. Open shots and open lanes are forthcoming for both, and nothing more than simple offensive execution (making jump shots and timely cuts and screens) will be asked from either.

There’s little doubt that both players will buy into Thibodeau’s vision, regardless of what role he designates for them. The Bulls’ front office, in tandem with its coach, makes sure only to draft players ready to sacrifice their egos in the name of the team’s goals. Recent comments made by Butler, reported by CSN Chicago’s Mark Strotman, reflect this:

“My role’s going to be to help win games, whether it’s on offense, on defense, on the bench cheering, whatever it may be. I think that’s all of our jobs, all of our role is help bring this city a championship.”

Snell and Butler are both soldiers in the Thibodeau mold. They’re sure to stay in tight defensive strings according to their leader’s league-permeating principles. But the Bulls, more than anything, may need something that depends more on touch and finesse than on ceaseless pressing from both: shooting. Whether either can consistently provide high marks from deep is a bit of a mystery until the season starts.

As such, both embody the crux of the Thibodeau-era Bulls. Although scoring is a huge question mark, the defense will always be there, because their coach—in tandem with the indomitable Joakim Noah—will always make sure of it. Grantland’s Zach Lowe had this to say about the team’s “quest for perfection”:

Scary news for the rest of the league: The Bulls are pretty close [to perfection]. Watch film of Chicago’s defense until your eyes bleed/your wife kills you — and I did — and the precision, so close to perfection, is overwhelming and almost beautiful. The Bulls, more than any team I’ve ever seen — including the Duncan-era Spurs and the 2007-08 Celtics, for whom Thibodeau was the defensive coordinator — just do not make mistakes.

The Bulls’ two young perimeter warriors will surely help cement their team’s untouchable status as defenders. But on offense, the Bulls are still just an inside-out team without dependable help in the middle, between Rose and Gasol. Chicago has a hole in the shape of either of these young studs at their best, so if Snell or Butler (or both) can add the less harvestable factor of scoring power into their games in 2014-15, it will help the Bulls reach new heights.

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Why 2014-15 NBA Season Will Be Most Important of Kyle Lowry’s Career

Kyle Lowry has never been here before.

The Toronto Raptors point guard has been in the NBA for eight years, but he’s never stared down a season as important as 2014-15.

It isn’t a contract year. It isn’t a redemption campaign during which Lowry will look to rebuild his image or successfully stave off injuries that derailed him the season before.

This is different from anything he’s ever faced.

For the first time in his career, Lowry isn’t looking for or trying to establish something new. He’s attempting to sustain what he’s built and prove things are different by ensuring they stay the same.


Inspiring 2013-14

Last season was Lowry at his absolute best, and he was compensated accordingly.

Toronto handed him a four-year, $48 million contract after he led the franchise to its first playoff appearance since 2008 and first Atlantic Division title since 2007.

To get there, to reach the playoffs and leave lottery demons behind, Lowry and the Raptors had to defy logic.

They were among those accused of tanking. Trading Rudy Gay didn’t help. It was only a matter of time before Lowry followed his exit, becoming another pawn in general manager Masai Ujiri‘s team-maiming game.

Scenarios were in place, according to Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling. Lowry could have been traded to the New York Knicks. He could have been traded elsewhere.

But he wasn’t.

Collective success forced the Raptors to reconsider, and Zwerling writes that Lowry’s continued development ultimately made him indispensable:

During the trade talks, the Raptors observed continued growth with Lowry, which stemmed from motivational conversations in the summer with his two closest mentors in the NBA, Tyronn Lue and Chauncey Billups. According to the source, Billups told Lowry, “You’re screwing up a great opportunity in the NBA.”

Whatever was said to Lowry stuck. The Raptors won 48 games, and he set career highs in points per game (17.9), assists per game (7.4), three-point shooting percentage (38), player efficiency rating (20.1) and win shares (11.7).

Long before the trade deadline passed, it became clear Lowry was the unquestioned leader of the surprising Raptors. He was an All-Star snub, a dark-horse MVP candidate. He was one of the best—if not the bestpoint guards in the Eastern Conference.

Leading into next season, he’s expected to do it all over again and overcome what has been his biggest problem over the years: recurring success.


Establishing Continuity

This was only the second time Lowry made the playoffs, and it was the first time he did so as an everyday starter.

His per-game numbers and availability have fluctuated since 2010. His status is fluid. What he brings has never been guaranteed.

“He also has yet to prove that he can string together several exceptionally productive seasons in a row,” Bleacher Report’s Stephen Babb wrote in July. “There’s a very real chance that we just witnessed the kind of season that won’t be repeated any time soon.”

Indeed, Lowry’s 2013-14 can be something of a red flag because of how good it was. Roughly 28.5 percent of his career win shares came last season alone, making his performance an anomaly as it pertains to the rest of his NBA pilgrimage.

Lowry’s undefined ability to duplicate that success is what rendered him a hot trade commodity in the first place.

The Raptors had no desire to pay him as of mid-February, according to NBA.com’s David Aldridge. They didn’t want to give him Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson or Jrue Holiday money.

Something inevitably changed. Lowry went nowhere and the Raptors were rewarded for retaining him…last season.

But what about next season?

Can Lowry finish in the top 10 of win shares again? Will he once more join superstars like Chris PaulJohn Wall and Curry as one of only four players to average at least 17 points, four rebounds, seven assists and 1.5 steals per game?

Is last season’s Lowry the real Lowry or just a pleasant irregularity?

Statistical and general performance inconsistencies are littered throughout Lowry’s career. Next year is his chance to show the Raptors that the point guard they paid for and believe in is the one they’re going to get.


Moving On for Good

Next season has to be the season, too.

Second chances aren’t luxuries Lowry will enjoy much longer. At 28, eight years into his career, this is his shot—his last shot.

The Raptors are assuming all the risk here. They’ve put much of their future in the hands of a point guard who rose to the challenge for one year.

There is no evidence to suggest Lowry will follow his 2013-14 crusade with something equally impressive in 2014-15. All the Raptors have is his word and their faith.

It was only one year ago when he struggled to remain healthy and shoot 40 percent from the field. It was only months ago when the Raptors wereapparentlyplanning for a future without him.

Now he’s their franchise cornerstone, brandishing unparalleled control over where the team goes next.

And, like Daniel Reynolds of Raptors HQ says, the path Toronto is traveling down feels right:

For the first time in forever, the Raptors feel like a franchise with identity and direction. No longer is the franchise running in circles with endless course corrections just to remain mediocre. The new front office — led by Masai Ujiri — have expressed confidence in the core of this team and demonstrated it by bringing them all back. The Raptors quietly went about their business of retaining their division winning roster, and now, a few months before the start of next season, the question becomes: could they be on the verge of reaching a new pinnacle?

Tweaks have been made, additional talent has been acquired and trades have been struck. However, the 2014-15 Raptors are largely the same team being held to different standards.

Any progress they make will be the result of internal improvement and stability. The Raptors are betting the core they have in place is the foundation for something even better than last season.

Headlining that core, propping up that foundation, is Lowry, the longtime question mark now enjoying the perks of stardom while ferrying the beliefs and ambitions of an entire franchise.

“He really just proved to the league and to the ownership and to the other teams that wanted him in free agency that he was for real, and ‘This is who I am,’” Raptors coach Dwane Casey told Zwerling.

To that end, Lowry is still a question mark. Last year’s Lowry may be the real Lowry, but continuity is the key. He has to prove himself again.

Never before has he been lauded so mightily or trusted so strongly. Never before has the real Lowry been expected to do so much or have a ceiling so high.

If that’s who he is—someone worthy of such assumptions—2013-14 will happen all over again, and Lowry’s new, much-improved status will reveal itself as a tried-and-true certainty.

Not a potential illusion.


Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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Important Lessons Learned About Top NCAA Basketball Teams in 2014 Offseason

Just because there aren’t any games being played doesn’t mean the NCAA basketball offseason is lacking in drama. Recruiting commitments, transfers and NBA draft decisions can change a team’s future in a heartbeat, and that’s not even accounting for those programs that get thrown a curve by something totally unexpected.

One school in the latter category is SMU, which had hopes of building on last year’s NIT runner-up finish with the biggest recruiting success in school history. However, star point guard Emmanuel Mudiay’s decision to start his pro career overseas means that the Mustangs will need to lower their expectations in a hurry.

Read on for more on the fallout from Mudiay’s surprise move, along with 19 more lessons garnered from the biggest offseason developments around the country.

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Kansas Basketball Recruiting: Who Is Most Important 2015 Recruit for Jayhawks?

Bill Self’s ability keep Kansas at the top of the Big 12 for a decade despite annual roster turnover—and recently coaching staff turnover—showcases his abilities as talent evaluator, recruiter and disciplined developmental coach.

After another impressive haul in this four-man 2014 class, with the likes of Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre parading into Lawrence, Self appears well positioned to lure a couple more blue-chip prospects to the Phog for 2015-16.

While each recruit carries his own importance, there are a few 5-star players that could ultimately prove to be the most important piece of a potential class for the Jayhawks.

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