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Predicting the 10 Biggest Inside-Outside Threats for the 2014-15 CBB Season

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistJuly 9, 2014

Predicting the 10 Biggest Inside-Outside Threats for the 2014-15 CBB Season

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    Speed and skill on the perimeter, size inside.

    This two-ingredient recipe for a balanced attack in college basketball seems simple, but if that were the case, everyone would be serving up that dish. Instead, only a select few teams have the players in both areas that are worthy of being considered a top inside-outside combo.

    Connecticut had one, with point guard Shabazz Napier running things outside and forward DeAndre Daniels cleaning up and finishing underneath the basket, and the Huskies used that tandem to win their second national title in four years. Same with Louisville the season before, as guard Russ Smith and center Gorgui Dieng kept opponents from being able to focus on stopping one main threat.

    Who will be the best inside-outside threats during the 2014-15 college basketball season? Here's our prediction for the top 10 combos.

Honorable Mentions

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    There are going to more than 10 strong inside-out combinations in Division I college basketball this upcoming season, but not all of them can make this list. Here's some of the pairings we considered, but ultimately passed on giving a top-10 designation:

    • C Przemek Karnowski and G Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
    • G Andrew Harrison and F Marcus Lee, Kentucky
    • G Ryan Harrow and F Curtis Washington, Georgia State
    • C Stefan Nastic and G Chasson Randle, Stanford
    • C Goodluck Okonoboh and G Rashad Vaughn, UNLV
    • G D'Angelo Russell and C Amir Williams, Ohio State

10. Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, Virginia

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    Virginia has arrived, and it looks like it's going to stay a part of college basketball's elite for some time. To ensure this, it will need Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill to feed off each other as much as possible.

    Brogdon, the Cavaliers' leading scorer a year ago at 12.7 points per game, is a 6'5" guard who will be a junior this fall. He shot 37 percent from three-point range and, thanks to some lockdown defense, was also able to help create many transition situations that enabled Virginia to score efficiently despite a slow-down approach.

    Gill, a 6'8" forward, was Virginia's instant offense last season coming off the bench. As a sophomore he averaged 8.6 points and 4.0 rebounds despite playing less than 20 minutes a game. A physical presence who rebounds well and finishes with the ball (he led the team in shooting at 58.7 percent), Gill has the ability to bang around and slash.

    As the ACC's hunted, instead of the previous role as a hunter, the defending conference champions will get everyone's best shot this season. But Brogdon and Gill will shoot back, and neither can be left alone to focus on the other.

9. Traevon Jackson and Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

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    Wisconsin's offense is such that nearly every player can handle the ball and they pretty much can all shoot it well. But Traevon Jackson and Frank Kaminsky are the Badgers' most reliable option in each of those areas, respectively, and as seniors this fall, they help make their team a very strong candidate not just to return to the Final Four but also win an NCAA title.

    In reaching the semifinals last year the Badgers got great guard play from the 6'2" Jackson, who averaged 10.7 points and 4.0 assists. Jackson often ramped up his scoring flair late in games, registering several key baskets or free throws in the final moments to help Wisconsin escape with victory.

    With Kaminsky, the 7'0" center was by far one of the biggest breakout stars of 2013-14. His team-leading 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds both more than tripled his output from the season before, and Kaminsky did so not just through the normal routes that a big man would but with a shooting touch—he shot 52.8 percent from the field and drained 37 of 98 three-pointers—that made him one of the biggest matchup nightmares in the country.

    The beauty of Wisconsin's lineup is that either of these guys could have an off game and most times there was enough output coming from the rest of the team that it didn't matter. It also meant that when they were both on, which was usually the case, the Badgers were next to unbeatable.

8. Cliff Alexander and Devonte Graham, Kansas

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    Kansas saw its one-two post punch of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid go pro after one season, then saw point guard Naadir Tharpe decide to transfer (though on Wednesday he announced his intention to play in the NBA's D-League instead, per Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports).

    No bother, says Jayhawks coach Bill Self, who's never without a backup plan and wasted little time getting reinforcements in line for 2014-15. The inside work will be handled mainly by 5-star power forward Cliff Alexander, a 6'9" bruiser who committed to Kansas last November, while the ball will be handled outside by late signee Devonte Graham.

    Graham, a 4-star prospect who picked Kansas over North Carolina State, Virginia and others, came on board right around the time Tharpe departed. It helped ease the blow of losing a guard who averaged 5.0 assists per game last season, and the 6'1" Graham's reputation is one of a guy who's not afraid to spread the ball around and feed beasts like Alexander.

7. Montrezl Harrell and Chris Jones, Louisville

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    One of the most surprising career decisions made by a star player from the 2013-14 college basketball season was that of Montrezl Harrell. The 6'8" power forward was a breakout star for defending NCAA champion Louisville, averaging 14.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while shooting 61 percent from the field.

    Those kind of numbers made a jump to the pros almost a foregone conclusion...then Harrell shocked many by deciding to come back for his junior season. And by doing that, he not only prevented the Cardinals from facing a potential rebuilding year (thanks to the departure of high-scoring guard Russ Smith, among others) but also put into motion the start of a new inside-out tandem for Louisville.

    With Harrell already showing what he can do inside, it takes pressure off Chris Jones as he steps into Smith's role at the point. As a junior, the 5'10" Jones showed his ability to handle the ball well, as noted by a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio along with some decent scoring pop of 10.2 points per game in a little over 25 minutes of action.

    Jones will be much more involved offensively this fall, but with Harrell and Mangok Mathiang down low and Terry Rozier helping on the perimeter, he'll be able to focus more on running things than taking over offensively like Smith often tried to do.

6. Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor, Duke

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    The best Duke teams over the years have had two very important pieces: an efficient point guard and force on the inside. When the Blue Devils lack in one or either area, the wins still come but early exits from the NCAA tournament (like this past year against Mercer in the second round) tend to happen.

    With the top recruiting class in the nation coming in, Mike Krzyzewski addressed both of these areas with top-tier prospects, and the tandem of Tyus Jones at point guard and Jahlil Okafor at center is expected to be one of the best in the nation despite both players being new to college ball.

    The 6'11", 270-pound Okafor finished the recruiting season No. 1 in 247Sports' composite rankings, while the 6'1" Jones was listed as No. 8 and the second-best point guard in the class. The pair publicly declared themselves a package deal throughout the recruiting process, a sign they've had plans to be a dynamic duo for a long time.

    Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon shared point guard duties at different times during last season, and while both fared well, the expectation is that Jones will be more prolific as the primary ball-handler. Inside, Okafor will not only replace the offensive pop lost when Jabari Parker went pro but also provide defense and rebounding help that Duke has been lacking.

5. Markus Kennedy and Emmanuel Mudiay, SMU

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    Markus Kennedy was a huge part of SMU's emergence as a new power in Division I last season, both statistically and literally. The 6'9", 245-pound power forward was the Mustangs' best inside weapon, averaging 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds while shooting better than 53 percent from the field.

    He did that with solid point guard Nic Moore getting him the ball. Imagine what kind of production he'll put forth when getting fed by the nation's top incoming point guard recruit.

    Emmanuel Mudiay, the No. 2 overall player in the 2014 recruiting class, comes in with so much hype that the Mustangs are projected as a top-10 team in many early rankings despite not making the NCAA tournament a year ago. That's because the dynamic scorer and distributor has been so impressive in all-star games, on travel teams and in high school. The 6'5" guard can play the point and the 2-guard spot, depending on whether he's going to score or facilitate.

    SMU has a chance to not only make the NCAA field this year but also with the American Athletic Conference, a league that produced last year's national champion. The Mustangs face a tough schedule along the way, but that just means Kennedy and Mudiay will have many high-profile opportunities to show how well they'll play together.

4. T.J. McConnell and Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Arizona has had good teams in every year since Sean Miller took over the program, but the one thing the Wildcats were missing was a true point guard. That changed last season when T.J. McConnell, a transfer from Duquesne, infused the Wildcats' attack with a pass-first that enabled their many finishers to get great looks.

    Now, with McConnell back for his senior year, he'll once again have plenty of weapons to choose from. That includes a 7'0" center who looks to finally be coming into his own after two years developing an offensive skill set.

    Kaleb Tarczewski went from averaging 6.6 points with 53.8 percent shooting as a freshman to 9.9 points and 58.4 shooting last season, and further improvement is expected for 2014-15. A defensive stopper from the outset, Tarczewski's ability to finish at the basket while also making some mid-range jumpers will get featured a lot this year, and McConnell will be the one getting him the ball.

    Last season, the 6'1" McConnell averaged 5.3 assists per game and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.01, which ranks second-best in school history. Expect both numbers to go up this fall.

3. Isaiah Taylor and Myles Turner, Texas

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    Texas' late-in-the-game signing of Myles Turner gives it a trio of standout frontcourt players, each of which could form a potent pairing with point guard Isaiah Taylor. We're going with Turner over Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes for this role because of what Turner is expected to provide in terms of scoring punch.

    The 5-star center, rated as the No. 6 player in the 2014 recruiting class, showed off what he can do for the Longhorns while playing with Team USA in the FIBA Americas Under-18 Championship last month in Colorado. Though he only played 15 minutes per game, the 6'10" Turner averaged 7.2 points and 4.8 rebounds. He made 13 of his 19 field goals and also dominated defensively, setting a tournament record with 18 blocks in five games.

    With that kind of punch inside, Taylor is poised to become one of the best floor leaders in the country. As a freshman last year he scored 12.7 points while adding 4.0 assists per game, but his 39 percent shooting was less than desired. He'll be shooting less in 2014-15, which should increase his efficiency as he dishes more than launches.

    Texas now has the kind of one-two punch that may finally lead to the end of Kansas' decade-long dominance in the Big 12.

2. Michael Frazier II and Chris Walker, Florida

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    We didn't get a chance to see much of the future of Florida last season, as Chris Walker didn't become eligible until February and the Gators were so senior-heavy there wasn't much need. But the promise that both Walker and returning sharpshooter Michael Frazier II showed gives us a strong indication that Florida won't slip much despite graduating four starters.

    Walker, a highly touted 5-star recruit, was the No. 7 prospect in the Class of 2013 but wasn't able to enroll at Florida until last December. He didn't get a chance to play for the Gators until two months later and managed to score just 1.9 points per game and average 1.3 rebounds in under five minutes of action during the Gators' final 18 games. With Patric Young and other bangers available, the 6'10" forward wasn't needed much.

    Frazier II was needed, but only for his excellent three-point shooting. More than 73 percent of the 6'4" guard's shooting came from long range, as he made 118 of 264 three-pointers to account for nearly half of the Gators' made threes. For the season he averaged 12.4 points per game, third-most on the team.

    Florida graduated Young, Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin and Will Yeguete, a quartet that was responsible for more than 60 percent of the team's scoring. That will put a lot of pressure on Walker to dive right into the frontcourt work and for Frazier to become more of a leader as a junior, but both have the talent to accomplish those tasks.

1. Kennedy Meeks and Marcus Paige, North Carolina

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Marcus Paige had a breakout season in 2013-14, becoming at many times a one-man show for North Carolina as it struggled early to find consistency on the perimeter. Paige will have more help from incoming guards this season, which will enable him to more frequently tap into the huge upside that Kennedy Meeks brings down on the blocks.

    Paige, a 6'1" point guard, scored a team-best 17.5 points per game last season (up from 8.2 PPG the year before) as he helped fill the void left by the absence of Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston. Paige often took over games, though many times it wasn't until the Tar Heels were down too much to regroup.

    It was easy to see how good UNC would be if it had more diversity in the offense, and that came about when the 6'9", 290-pound Meeks began to blossom at power forward. As a freshman he averaged 7.6 points and 6.1 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per game, but during the Heels' season-changing 12-game win streak he had as many as 23 points in a contest and on three occasions had 10 or more rebounds.

    Meeks is a sleeping giant waiting to get utilized more often, and with Paige continuing to grow as a true point guard instead of just a scorer, this is a partnership that will be fun to watch.

     

    All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.com.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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