Le'Bryan Nash, Aaron Moore, Lamont Prosser

Le’Bryan Nash: ‘I’m trying to lead the NCAA in free-throw attempts’

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Oklahoma State’s surprising, 5-0 start to the season — which included a 17 point win over Tennessee and a 20 point win over NC State — was credited, in large part, to Marcus Smart.

He’s the freshman that’s playing out of position at the point and doing things like posting 20 points, seven boards, seven assists, four steals and four blocks in games against top ten teams (NC State).

Some have said that, as of right now, he’s not just the best freshman in the country, but he deserves to have his name in the mix for national player of the year. And hey, when you put up the kind of numbers that Smart has put up and your team wins the kind of games that the Pokes won, you deserve that kind of credit.

But here’s the thing: Smart isn’t alone on that Oklahoma State roster.

The other top ten recruit that Travis Ford has at his disposal has played pretty well, also.

I’m referring to Le’Bryan Nash, who entered Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech averaging 19.2 points and 6.4 boards. More importantly, Nash putting up those numbers by taking advantage of his strengths. A year ago, the 6-foot-7 physical specimen — he’s got the build and the athleticism to be an awesome NFL tight end — spent too much time floating around the perimeter, shooting threes and trying to prove to everyone that he can score on the perimeter. This year, he’s taking the ball to the rim, whether it’s on post-ups or by putting the ball on the floor and getting by his man.

“I’m trying to lead the NCAA in free-throw attempts,” Nash told NewsOK.com. “I’m just taking what the defense gives me. And I’m playing with my teammates. My teammates give me the ball in good situations, and when you have a scoring mentality, then defenses can’t stop you. All they can do is foul you.”

Last year, Nash averaged just 4.9 free throws per game. Through five games this season, he nearly doubled that, averaging 9.6 free throws while shooting 85.7% from the stripe, up from 73.0% last year. In the wins over NC State and Tennessee, Nash shot a combined 24 free throws.

But in Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech, Nash only got to the line twice, a season-low. He also shot a season-high 18 field goals, five of which came from beyond the arc. He had taken ten three in five games entering the weekend.

I think it’s pretty clear.

Le’Bryan Nash is at his best when he’s attacking the basket, and when he’s at his best, Oklahoma State is winning games.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.