Observations: Napier one of the best players in UConn history
Rothstein: Stop comparing Shabazz Napier to Kemba Walker. Why? Because Walker's supporting cast was much better than Napier's. Taking this group to Dallas makes Napier a legend.
1. Shabazz Napier needs to stop being compared to Kemba Walker.
And that's because the supporting cast that was next to Walker in 2011 when UConn won the national title was vastly superior to the one that Napier has next to him this year. Three years ago, Walker had Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith, Jeremy Lamb, Jamaal Coombs-McDaniel, Niels Giffey, and Napier when he was a freshman. With all due respect to DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright, the supporting act that Walker had was on a different level. Napier is Napier and Walker is Walker, but the fact that Napier took this Huskies' group to the NCAA Tournament's final weekend when they were a seven seed makes him one of the best players to ever play at UConn. And that's regardless of what happens Saturday against Florida.
The Wildcats have their players for one year -- two tops -- before they head to the NBA. The Badgers watch their players grow over a four-to-five year period. Kentucky is big, strong, and fast. Wisconsin is calm, poised, and methodical. Meet Bo Ryan and he'll feel like your neighbor. Meet John Calipari and you'll wonder if he's going to succeed Barack Obama in 2016. This is the classic situation of two opposites going at it on college basketball's biggest stage. Great theater? We wouldn't expect anything less at the Final Four.
3. Florida was "this close" to being another Wichita State
The Gators have lost two games this season. The first was at Wisconsin without Scottie Wilbekin. The second was at UConn when Shabazz Napier hit a buzzer beater and Kasey Hill wasn't available. Billy Donovan's squad still has yet to lose a game this season when they've been fully healthy and if they had, we might have been talking about Florida as another undefeated team along with Wichita State. I'm not naive. I know the SEC was down. I know this team wasn't really tested in league play. But that doesn't mean that going through a BCS conference without a blemish and then winning the conference tournament isn't an incredible accomplishment. With a little touch of health, we might be talking about the Gators like we talked about the 1991 UNLV team that entered the Final Four at 34-0 before they were upset by Duke.
4. Roscoe Smith's decision to leave UNLV for the NBA may actually help the Runnin' Rebels' role allocation next season
The 6-foot-8 power forward was a walking double-double last season and averaged 11.1 points and 10.9 rebounds in 29.1 minutes. But Smith's departure may actually help UNLV's chemistry in 2014-15. Khem Birch is cemented as this team's starting center and Smith's departure will open up the door for either sophomore Christian Wood or 6-9 freshman Dwayne Morgan to start at the four. Fellow first-year big man Goodluck Okonoboh is another frontcourt prospect who's going to command a place in Dave Rice's rotation and it's going to be a lot easier to find minutes for four guys than it would be for five. The Runnin' Rebels lost a good player in Smith, but there's more than enough left over in Sin City to fill the void he left behind.
5. Rebuilding jobs in the ACC are similar to what they were three-to-five years ago in the Big East
In 2009, the Big East had three number one seeds in the NCAA Tournament. In 2011, the Big East had 11 teams in the field of 68. And now in 2014, the ACC seems primed to resemble what that league was at its pinnacle. Last season Syracuse, Pitt, and Notre Dame joined the conference and next season Rick Pitino and Louisville will make the transition. How are programs like Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, and Boston College going to make a jump and work their way into the middle half of the league standings? It's not going to be easy. Danny Manning, Buzz Williams, and Jim Christian all left their respective posts to compete in what will likely be the most competitive conference in college basketball, but they're all in situations now where they're going to literally be pushing a boulder up a hill. Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia, Pitt, and Louisville are all perennial NCAA Tournament teams and NC State, Miami, and Notre Dame figure to compete for bids in 2015. It's not going to be easy to rebuild a program in the ACC. Not now --- not ever.
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