Most younger players, I think, perform better without the hype. As they become accustomed to what is expected and perform within their capabilities, the game seems to become much easier. In today's college basketball world, this seems to happen over the course of a season, or sometimes, over the course of the non-conference season. With some players the attention and recognition will always follow them. If they succeed, more will be expected. If they don't they will be considered a bust, which isn't necessarily fair. Here is a list of players in the limelight, some of whom have been there before and some of whom are just entering it.
Easy to understand this one. Singler was vote the MOP of the Final Four last year and despite some inclination to enter the NBA draft came back to Duke for a shot at the repeat. Many people concur this team is more talented than last year’s edition so in that respect, maybe it was a good call. However, with a lockout in the NBA looming, Singler’s options next season are up in the air.
After a year and a half, Bulldog fans will finally get a chance to see Sidney in action. After last season’s protracted battle to get him on the court went against State, he will also sit out the first nine games this season. Coaches and fans alike may have to show some patience for the big man, who has not played a competitive game in nearly two years.
If this guy isn’t getting hyped, he should be. He is quite possibly the best overall player on the West Coast. Leonard will be a double-double machine for the Aztecs, who already own a true road win over a solid Gonzaga team. He isn’t spectacular at one thing, he just works harder than most and is good at everything.
The second coming of...well, you know. Irving has been impressive early, not so much with his consistency but with the pace at which he plays the game on both ends of the floor. Much is expected from the freshman point guard and he won’t shy away. Duke hasn’t been tested yet, something that changes this week with Marquette and the winner of Kansas State and Gonzaga on the slate.
Jones will fill the shoes of Epke Udoh quite capably. A projected first-round NBA pick next year, Jones has already shown he is ready to be an elite player at the college level, averaging close to a double-double. When LaceDarius Dunn returns, Jones could have even more room to operate.
Fear the beard. Wildcat fans are counting on Pullen to lead the team at least one step further this year. He is a player and he is a leader on a team that is ready to take on Kansas and Baylor for the Big 12 championship. There is much depth up front for K-State so Pullen should be able to find his touch from the outside and direct what could be a potent offence.
But wait, hope in Lawrence swells as Selby will be eligible to play beginning December 18. The Jayhawks were very good without him. How good can they be with him? Being cleared for mid-December means that Selby will miss a total of...zero conference games. Kansas becomes the favourite with this addition.
Sullinger is the stuff (you know what I really mean). The Big Ten will be a different animal, but for now, he is as advertised and will continue to get better in a situation where he is surrounded not only by veteran players, but by GOOD veteran players. The Buckeyes have been the most impressive team in the early-going.
Actually, there was more hype about him during the recruiting process and his last-minute wavering. Jones, however, will have to answer the bell for Kentucky, especially since Enes Kanter was ruled ineligible. The Wildcats have a dearth of frontcourt bodies and Ross will be asked to play multiple roles.
After the first half of the second game of his college career, Barnes had more than lived up to the hype. The subsequent three halves didn’t go so well. Barnes will be the key to the Tar Heels success this year, no question. But as good as he is, he still needs some time to get his feet wet. By the time conference play rolls around, his feet will be wet.
After gaining eligibility, Barton declared that he would lead Memphis to the national championship. That’s not going to happen. Yet. The Tigers bring in a very talented freshmen class led by Barton and Joe Jackson, and if the recruiting trail stays hot who knows. Barton’s best attribute is likely his rebounding but really, he does a bit of everything. This guy isn’t afraid and will lead the Tigers back to the NCAA tourney.
Although we haven’t seem him yet this year, Georgia’s NCAA aspirations hinge on his health, and everyone, including Bulldogs’ coach Mark Fox, knows this. Thompkins came on strong in his sophomore season and is expected to be a leading candidate for SEC player-of-the-year. Barring a lockout in the NBA, this will be his last season at Georgia and fans hope that it will, at the very least, be one that sees the Bulldogs dancing in March.
If Thompkins is the bread, Leslie is the butter for Georgia. Another NBA-bound talent, Leslie has already accumulated a personal reel of spectacular dunks. He is more than that, though, and gives the Bulldogs another serious offensive threat. Optimism for Georgia is high and for good reason. Leslie is half of one of the better duos in the country.
Probably the highest-ranked recruit that the program has had, Harris will be in the spotlight from day one. The Vols would like to say that “this is Scotty Hopson’s team” but they would be saying that for his benefit. Right now, the program is a mess. Their coach will be suspended for the first eight games of conference play, they really still don’t have a point guard and anyone who believes that Harris won’t easily be the best player on this team is mistaken.
One of the most intriguing transfers ever (Liberty to Duke?), Curry has shown little rust from his one year layoff. However, comparisons to his brother are completely unfair. Seth will likely never get the opportunity to lead the team the way his brother did. On the other hand, he could be a very key piece on a national championship team. He still needs to prove himself consistently against top competition.
If anything you’ve heard about Walker seems outrageous, believe it. And if anything you’ve heard about some angst in Storrs seems overblown, believe it too. Walker will be the saving grace for this team. Nobody is quicker (except maybe a guy on his own team), nobody is as fearless and nobody has improved his shooting the way Walker has. He is just plain fun to watch.
A big man with good hands and feet is the description most often attributed to Smith. He has made a concerted effort to live right and maximize his potential. But he won’t be asked to carry the Bruins and his ability to play big minutes may still be a question. However, he has an NBA-ready body and will give UCLA a serious low-post threat.
Michigan State Spartans have the ingredients for yet another Final Four appearance if Lucas can return to form after last season’s Achilles tendon injury, which is much more serious injury than we think. The Spartans picked up the pieces without him for a couple of games but will struggle over the long haul without him. I don’t know if he is the best player in the Big Ten but he is the most important.
Delaney is back in Blacksburg to lead the Hokies to the NCAA tournament and hopefully contend for one of the top spots in the ACC. He leads a talented, experienced crew that has been on the cusp of the tourney the last two season’s but have ultimately been denied. Delaney’s return as a senior will ensure that Tech won’t be left off of the dance card for three straight years.
Another senior returnee who many thought would test the NBA waters last year, Johnson’s role got significantly more prominent when Robbie Hummel went down yet again. He is a guy who can carry a team but who also plays for the team. He won’t necessarily be asked to do more this year but it will be a surprise if gets any more than four or five minutes rest in any game.
One of the many Duke players in the spotlight, Smith is perhaps the least talked-about. Why? That is puzzling, because he is as good as it gets at his position, offensively and defensively. Other players deserve some recognition and one, Singler specifically, has the credentials to support it. But this guy was a big reason why the Devils are the reigning national champs.
Okay, before the ripping begins for the Leonard comment, Williams could also quite possibly be the best player on the west coast. They’re both outstanding. Williams will also be the catalyst if Arizona is to return to the NCAA tournament (and they will) after a one year absence. Williams had a big freshman season and will be the leading contender for the conference POY.
Already poised for a monster year, Morris had to smile when the news that Josh Selby would be playing in less than a month broke. That said, Morris has been in the shadow of Cole Aldrich somewhat but now has the chance to be the man, in the middle. He is probably a better offensive player that Aldrich. Morris, too, is a candidate for his conference’s POY award.
Even if you are not a fan of BYU, or the Mountain West, or basketball in general, how can you not like a guy named “Jimmer.” Better yet though, the guy can play. He shoots, passes, drives, directs - you name it. The best combo guard in the country will lead BYU back to the NCAA tournament and possibly to a title in a conference that has some dangerous teams.
Growing pains are an essential part of learning how to play at Syracuse and while the upside for Melo is evident, he can’t be confused with the alumnus of a similar handle. Highly-touted coming in as a freshman, Melo will need to learn to walk before he runs, especially defensively, where the Orange will play a 2-3 almost exclusively.