The Metroplex is known for its football talent, but basketball players from the area are starring on the college stage this season.
Oklahoma State sophomore guard Marcus Smart led Flower Mound Marcus to two consecutive state championships and hopes to lead the Cowboys to their first Final Four in a decade.
Ole Miss sharpshooter Marshall Henderson, a Hurst L.D. Bell product, made headlines in March when he led the Rebels to an upset victory over Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
And Plano Prestonwood’s Julius Randle has become a double-double machine as a freshman at Kentucky.
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With AT&T Stadium hosting the Final Four, all of them hope to come back to their hometowns at the end of the season. They highlight our Metroplex Dream Team.
Metroplex Dream Team
G Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State (Flower Mound Marcus): It’s hard to find a more complete player in the country, which is why he’s a candidate for player of the year. He might not have the hype of Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins or Duke’s Jabari Parker, but Smart has established himself as one of the elite players in the country. Smart is a threat to put up a triple-double any game, and plays well beyond his years.
G Marshall Henderson, Mississippi (Hurst L.D. Bell): He might be best known for his on-court antics, whether it’s trash-talking or celebrating a big shot. And his off-court issues with recreational drugs led to a suspension earlier this season as well as for the first two SEC games. But Henderson can play. He leads the Rebels in scoring at 18.8 points per game, highlighted by a 39-point game against Oregon last Sunday.
F Julius Randle, Kentucky (Plano Prestonwood): UT Arlington coach Scott Cross described Randle as “a man child.” Nobody should dispute that; the 6-foot-9, 250-pounder is a force in the paint. Randle is averaging a double-double — 17.8 points and 12 rebounds — and should only get better.
F Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State (Dallas Lincoln): He wasn’t the freshman sensation most expected coming out of high school, but Nash has developed in his time with the Cowboys. The junior forward is doing a nice job in a supporting role by averaging almost 13 points and six rebounds a game.
F Isaiah Austin, Baylor (Arlington Grace Prep): Most thought Austin would be a one-and-done player, but he returned for his sophomore season. Austin got off to a slow start after recovering from shoulder surgery in May but has played better of late. He has improved his shot-blocking ability and should become a bigger part of the offense as his shoulder improves.
Jan. 4: Big 12 conf. play begins
March 16: Selection Sunday
March 18-19: First round (Dayton)
March 20, 22: Second-third rds. (Buffalo, Orlando,
March 21, 23; Second-third rds. (Raleigh, San Antonio,
San Diego, St. Louis)
March 27, 29: South Regional (Memphis) and West Regional (Anaheim)
March 28, 30: Midwest
Regional (Indianapolis) and East Regional (New York)
April 5: National semifinals (Arlington)
April 7: Championship
G Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State (Flower Mound Marcus)
G Mashall Henderson,
Mississippi (Hurst L.D. Bell)
F Julius Randle, Kentucky (Plano Prestonwood)
F Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State (Dallas Lincoln)
F Isaiah Austin, Baylor
(Arlington Grace Prep)
Baylor: The Bears turned the ball over too many times in their 74-67 loss to Syracuse in Hawaii last month. That wasn’t an issue when they pulled off a 67-62 upset of Kentucky on Dec. 6 at AT&T Stadium, though. Baylor showed it has the talent to beat some of the top teams in the country.
Kansas: Kentucky has had a rough stretch, but not as bad as the one KU is in. The Jayhawks have lost three of their last four games, including consecutive games against Colorado and Florida. The slate doesn’t get much easier, with New Mexico on Saturday and Georgetown on Dec. 21. Bill Self has his work cut out with a young, but extremely talented, team.
Three games to watch
Kentucky at North Carolina (4:15 p.m. Saturday, ESPN): This matchup of storied programs should be an intriguing game. Both teams have been inconsistent so far. UNC has wins against Michigan State and Louisville, and losses to Belmont and UAB. UK, meanwhile, is still searching for a marquee nonconference win after losses to Michigan State and Baylor.
Florida vs. Memphis (8 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN): This one highlights the Jimmy V Men’s Basketball Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Gators are riding high after upsetting Kansas, while the Tigers have won five straight. The matchup to watch could be Memphis’ leading scorer, point guard Joe Jackson, against Florida’s defensive-minded guard Scottie Wilbekin.
Duke vs. UCLA (6:30 p.m. Thursday, ESPN): Another great college basketball game at MSG between tradition-rich programs. Duke is a contender once again, led by freshman sensation Jabari Parker, who forms a physical frontcourt with Rodney Hood. And the Blue Devils have one of the country’s top backcourts in Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon. UCLA, meanwhile, is making strides under first-year coach Steve Alford. Sophomore Jordan Adams is scoring more than 20 points a game, and wing Kyle Anderson is averaging almost a double-double.
Projecting the top seeds
The top-ranked team in the country is undefeated and already has wins over Duke, San Diego State and UNLV. Juniors T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson give the Wildcats experience in the backcourt, and freshman sensation Aaron Gordon has lived up to the hype so far.
The Orange has gotten off to an impressive start and should make an immediate impact in its inaugural ACC season. C.J. Fair is one of the best big men in the country, and freshman Tyler Ennis has excelled at point guard.
Midwest: Michigan State
Based on the rankings right now, this could easily be Ohio State. But it’s hard not to think the Spartans will wind up as a No. 1 seed come March. They are the most experienced team in the country, and this month’s home loss to North Carolina will become a footnote.
The defending national champions should have a résumé worthy of a one-seed by the end of the season, as they try to make a third consecutive Final Four. The Cardinals have gotten solid play out of their backcourt of Russ Smith and Chris Jones, and sophomore Montrezl Harrell has become a post presence.