Drew Sharp: Basketball must help heal Michigan athletics

Drew Sharp sees attention pivot from football follies

      
 

 

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Kentucky Basketball: 5 Things Wildcats Must Prove Early in 2014-15

Heading into the 2014-15 season, there aren’t too many questions about Kentucky basketball. Returning a majority of the players that made the national title game and getting four McDonald’s All-Americans joining them on a roster makes Kentucky a clear favorite to win the national championship this season.

However, every question has at least one that has to be answered during the season. For this season, a deep, loaded roster is arguably the biggest question mark on the roster. How will head coach John Calipari handle the minutes? Will the platoon system work?

This slideshow will take a look at the five things the Wildcats must prove early in the 2014-15 season to hold on to their No. 1 ranking. 

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North Carolina Basketball: 5 Things Tar Heels Must Prove Early in 2014-15

The North Carolina basketball team is No. 6 in the country and has visions of a national championship at the end of the year, but there are things it must take care of early in the season.

In fact, the Tar Heels only have three games before the Battle 4 Atlantis, where they play Butler, either UCLA or Oklahoma and then likely Florida or Wisconsin. That is a quick turnaround for a rather young team with only a few warm-up contests to iron things out.

With that in mind, here is a look at five things North Carolina must do early in the 2014-15 season.

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Doug McDermott Must Seize Early Chance While Jimmy Butler Recovers from Injury

The best opportunities don’t always arise from the best circumstances.

That appears to be the case for Chicago Bulls rookie Doug McDermott, who might open his debut campaign with a much larger role than initially anticipated.

It all comes down to the health of perimeter stopper Jimmy Butler, an All-Defensive second-team selection in 2013-14. The 25-year-old suffered a sprained left thumb during Chicago’s preseason tilt with the Charlotte Hornets on October 19, casting a cloud of uncertainty over his availability out of the gate.

While initially thought to be a game-time decision for Chicago’s season opener Wednesday night, Butler has since has been ruled out of the contest, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. As for how long he’ll be out of the action, well, that remains a mystery.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Butler would be out two-to-four weeks, per ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell:

Butler, however, chimed in that he’s hoping to return as soon as Friday, per Johnson:

No one seems to know just how long this might last, Thibodeau included.

“Two-to-four (weeks), one-to-three, I don’t know what it is,” the coach told reporters Wednesday. “He’s not comfortable going yet, so when he is, he will.”

Even amid the mass of question marks, one thing seems fairly certain: The window is now open for McDermott to make his mark. Whether it’s open a crack or something larger than that is moot.

Regardless of the size of this opportunity, the point is that it absolutely exists.

Now, that might not sound surprising to some given the way McDermott paved his NBA path.

He left Creighton University sitting fifth on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list with 3,150 career points. He was a three-time All-American, a three-time conference player of the year and a four-time All-Conference first-teamer.

He turned enough heads at the collegiate level for the Bulls to part with two first-round selections to bring him on board. Considering Chicago’s investment in his talent and his level of success prior to hitting the Windy City, he may have seemed primed for a substantial role.

Before Butler went down, though, McDermott actually appeared more likely to have nothing more than a part-time spot in Thibodeau‘s rotation.

“There are several players in place who have the time in Thibs‘ system that McDermott lacks, and once again, [Tony] Snell could have something to say about the minutes the rookie gets,” Blog A Bull’s Jason Patt wrote in September. “… I’m thinking McDermott plays around 15-20 minutes per game this season.”

Butler’s injury changes everything.

The swingman logged a team-high 38.7 minutes per game last season, a year in which he struggled to fully shake off the effects of a turf-toe injury he suffered in November. He may have rushed that return and has said he will not make the same mistake again.

“This time I’m going to make sure I’m back and ready to go without limitations,” he said, per Bulls.com’s Sam Smith. “(Last year) I had that turf toe. I probably came back a little too early and I was still a little ragged in some parts. This time, I’m going to make sure I’m back 100 percent.”

The championship-hopeful Bulls need Butler at his best, so they won’t force the issue. But they’ll need someone to fill his shoes in the interim. And of all the players up for the position, none carries a deeper bag of scoring tricks than McDermott.

His perimeter prowess may have punched his NBA ticket, but McDermott has the ability to be much more than a gunner, as Bleacher Report’s Daniel O’Brien explained:

McDermott can do more than hit triples, as he’s got a great feel for scoring from any spot on the floor.

He can get defenders to bite on pump-fakes, and then he’s capable of one or two dribbles for a bucket off the glass. In the mid-range, he’s extremely dangerous with an assortment of step-backs and Dirk Nowitzki-esque fadeaways.

Even with Derrick Rose‘s return and the additions of Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Aaron Brooks, the Bulls need someone with that type of offensive punch.

And scary as this sounds, McDermott could be an even more effective offensive player now with all the help he’ll have around him.

“I’d go on record and say I feel like at the end of the day, if somehow Doug McDermott can be a starter, I think he’s going to get better shots with that starting unit being out there with Pau Gasol and with Derrick Rose,” former Bulls coach and current ESPN analyst Doug Collins told reporters recently.

The Bulls can look at other options for shooters, but they won’t find any who can match McDermott’s offensive arsenal.

At this point in his career, Mike Dunleavy is more of a specialist than anything. Nearly 42 percent of his field-goal attempts came from long range last season, and almost all of his makes were created by someone else: Over 78 percent of his two-point field goals and almost 96 percent of his triples came off assists.

Kirk Hinrich had more success calling his own number—just 38.6 percent of his two-point baskets were assisted—but the 33-year-old has converted his field goals at less than a 40 percent clip during each of the past two seasons.

Sophomore swingman Tony Snell packs an intriguing combination of athleticism and three-point touch. But he only played 16.0 minutes a night as a rookie, and, as Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin observed, he has yet to prove he has Thibodeau‘s trust:

With so many minutes to fill, all four players should factor into Thibodeau‘s early season rotation. But this is McDermott’s chance to entrench himself into the Bulls’ blueprint going forward.

Thibodeau isn’t the biggest fan of growing pains. During his four seasons at the helm, Snell is the only Bulls rookie to have averaged more than 13 minutes a night.

That said, those growing pains are easier to deal with in October and November than they would be in April and May. If McDermott can play Thibodeau-approved defense, an area in which the rookie will be helped by the likes of reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah and rim protector Taj Gibson, McDermott can use this early exposure to secure a larger permanent role than anyone could have imagined would be available to him.

It’s probably not the opportunity McDermott pictured himself receiving. It’s definitely not the way the Bulls wanted to find minutes for the first-year forward.

But it’s a silver lining nonetheless. It’s his chance to turn the franchise’s setback into a step forward for the organization.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Ohio State Basketball: 5 Things Buckeyes Must Prove Early in 2014-15

The 2014-15 Ohio State basketball program is in a position that it hasn’t been in very often under Thad Matta.

It’s a dark-horse contender.

The Buckeyes have plenty of young talent, but the loss of mainstays like Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. means many people are overlooking Matta’s bunch.

Shannon Scott discussed the possibility of sneaking up on people, via Rusty Miller of The Associated Press:

From my junior, sophomore and freshman years, we’d be hearing so much about Buckeye basketball, what we’re going to bring to the table and all that stuff. I haven’t really heard that much about it this year. Personally, I’m kind of a fan of that. We can just go out on the court now and play our game and prove everybody wrong. So it’s going to be fun for us.

While surprising those without high expectations may be a long-term goal, there are certain things the Buckeyes must establish early in the season. Four of their first five games are against UMass Lowell, Sacred Heart, Campbell and James Madison, so the opportunity is there to set the tone early.

With that in mind, here are five things Ohio State must do in the first few games. 

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Michigan must overcome more NBA departures (Yahoo Sports)

After winning the Big Ten and nearly reaching a second straight Final Four, John Beilein’s Michigan team lost a few early entrants to the NBA draft. I like what I’ve seen.” The Wolverines have withstood some significant departures in the past. Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. left after taking Michigan to the Final Four in 2013, yet the Wolverines still made it back to the Elite Eight last season.

View full post on Yahoo Sports – NCAA Men’s Hoops News

5 Things Jayhawks Must Prove Early in 2014-15

The Kansas Jayhawks come into the 2014-15 college basketball season ranked no. 5 in the nation. After a disappointing finish to last season and the loss of many key players, including Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, to the next level, Kansas is far from a sure-fire pick for a deep run in March.

If one thing is for sure, though, it is that Bill Self has put together an incredibly talented roster capable of dominating opponents. Self has put his Jayhawks in position to win their 11th straight Big 12 regular-season title, but coming through on that goal will certainly be a challenge for this young Kansas squad.

The Big 12 is starting the season with four teams ranked inside the top 20, tied with the ACC for the most of any conference, showing that clearly it is not going to be an easy road for the Jayhawks. Their toughest in-conference competitor is likely to be the No. 10 Texas Longhorns and their absolute beast of a front line.

Kansas will face some stiff competition prior to conference play, however, and before they get to that part of their schedule, here are the five most important things for the Jayhawks to prove early on this season.

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Defending champs UConn must replace Napier

UConn reloads at guard as it looks to make a run at another national championship

      
 

 

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Defending champs UConn must replace Napier (Yahoo Sports)

FILE - In t his April 5, 2014, file photo, Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie reacts during the first half of an NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game against Florida in Arlington, Texas. Ollie and UConn will host Bryant to open the 2014-15 season on Friday, Nov. 14. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

Defending national champion UConn goes from playing with a chip on its shoulder to a target on its back. The Huskies came into last season determined to come back strong after an academic ban from the 2013 NCAA tournament. This year, the Huskies go from hunters to the hunted. ”We know we’ve got people coming for us, but we’re not just sitting back and relaxing,” said guard Rodney Purvis.


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Duke Basketball: 5 Things Blue Devils Must Prove Early in 2014-15

The Duke basketball team is ranked No. 3 in the country and is a clear national championship contender, but there will be things besides winning that are important early in the year.

After all, five of the Blue Devils’ first six games come against the likes of Presbyterian, Fairfield, Temple, Furman and Army, so they should be able to win those ones rather easily. There will still be a number of things Duke must prove and establish moving forward before the competition heats up.

With that in mind, here is a look at five things in particular that Mike Krzyzewski and his squad must do early in the season.

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