College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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Could an injury to Moser actually be a blessing in disguise for UNLV?: Before I get to my line of thinking, I want to emphasize something: this is no way, shape or form a good thing. Miker Moser dislocated his elbow — according to head coach Dave Rice, it was “very dislocated” — in a win at Cal on Sunday night, an injury that didn’t cause a fracture but will force Moser out of the lineup for an extended period of time. Maybe even the rest of the season. Considering this kid’s talent and the fact that he passed up on a chance to enter the NBA Draft after a breakout sophomore campaign, the pain from popping an elbow out of place isn’t the only reason this injury hurts. No one wants to see him sitting on the bench. No one.

But this will make Rice’s decisions easier to make in the near future. You see, Moser is a natural four in today’s college basketball. He’s 6-foot-8, he can rebound and defend in the paint, but he can also step out and knock down a three. Spread the floor offensively and protect the rim defensively. It’s ideal. It’s also a position that is currently being manned by Anthony Bennett, whose 25 points and 13 boards pushed his freshman year averages up to 18.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Khem Birch returns next week, and if he’s as good as the hype says he is — I know we always hear a transfer being forced to sit out is the best player in practice, but sometimes that turns out to be the case — than that means Moser would be forced to the small forward spot.

Because you don’t sit a talent like Mike Moser, even if it means playing him out of position.

With Moser out of the lineup, however, that means that the Chuck Brothers — Bryce Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt — can take up residence on the perimeter with Anthony Marshall manning the point, and while I don’t love that trio being tasked with distributing the ball when the front court is where UNLV’s strength lies, it may end up being a better option that using an out-of-position Moser.

Kansas is on track to become one of the nation’s elite: The thinking about Kansas throughout the preseason was that this would be an elite defensive team that will slowly develop into a very good offensive team as Elijah Johnson learns to be a point guard and Ben McLemore becomes more comfortable in a feature role offensively. Well, the former is true, as Withey has become the nation’s premiere defensive force in the paint, anchoring a defense that currently ranks sixth in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom. And McLemore? He’s averaging 16.0 points with an offensive efficiency rating of 116.0 (a really good number) and a usage rate of 25.6% (meaning he’s the focal point offensively). As he becomes a more consistent three-point shooter (he’s currently at 31.4%), those numbers will only improve.

The only thing Kansas is really waiting on is Johnson, or Naadir Tharpe, to learn how to protect the ball offensively. Kansas is going to be right there in the mix all season long, and a 36 point shellacking of Colorado on Saturday is only further evidence of that.

How many teams constitute ‘the nation’s elite’?: Here’s the way I see it right now: Duke and Indiana are the nation’s top two teams as of this moment. It doesn’t really matter how you rank them — I still have IU in the top spot, but if you want to put Duke there because of who they have beaten this season, I have no qualms with that — but those two need to be No. 1 and No. 2. I think Michigan is the third best team in the country, followed very closely by Syracuse at No. 4. The next tier is made up of Louisville, Kansas and Florida.

I consider those seven teams the ‘nation’s elite’. Arizona, Cincinnati, Ohio State, Gonzaga, Missouri, Illinois, Creighton, anyone from the Mountain West — they’re not on that same level.

What does the loss to Illinois tell us about Gonzaga?: I’m torn over this. Illinois was quite impressive in winning at Gonzaga on Saturday night, but just what does a win at Gonzaga mean right now? The Zags have one of the biggest and most versatile front lines in the country, and their back court is loaded with talent and athleticism, but there are two major concerns I have with this group:

  • Kevin Pangos is a terrific player, but he’s not a point guard; he’s a scoring guard that can handle the ball. The only point guard on Gonzaga’s roster is David Stockton, and he turns the ball over far too often and is a defensive liability, especially when he shares the floor with Pangos. And while Pangos is struggling a bit early on this year, he still needs to be on the floor for this team.
  • The Zags are going to have an advantage in the paint in every game, and they certainly had one against a much smaller Illinois team. But they couldn’t get the ball to Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk or Prmezek Karnowski in the second half against the Illini. Some of that was due to a zone that Illinois was in, but there was also an issue with perimeter players hunting shots. Is this going to be a consistent issue? Because if it is, Gonzaga won’t be playing to their strength.

It’s too early to write off the Zags, but this loss was a worrisome development given the way the past couple of seasons have gone.

Brandon Triche, the nation’s most prolific starter?: Here’s a cool stat for you: Brandon Triche has started all 115 games of his college career. He’s never missed one and never come off of the bench for one. The record for most starts in a college career was set by Kyle Singler, who started 147 games. Singler came off the bench once as a sophomore, however, which is why former VCU Ram Bradford Burgess holds to current NCAA record for most consecutive starts with 146. Syracuse has played eight games this season, which means that if they can make it to the finals of both the Big East tournament and the NCAA tournament without coming off the bench or missing a game, he’ll be able to break Burgess’ record and tie Singler’s record while setting his record for most career starts without missing a game or coming off the bench in a career.

No other senior in the country has started every single game in his career. The closest is Drew Crawford or Northwestern. He’s currently at 110 career starts, but he came off the bench once as a sophomore. Ohio’s DJ Cooper has started 114 games in his career, but he’s come off of the bench four times. Kenny Boynton has 112 career starts, coming off the bench once in each of his first three seasons. Elias Harris has 108 starts, but he missed a game as a freshman and as a sophomore and came off the bench once as a sophomore.

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

Deng Adel to return to Louisville

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Deng Adel is withdrawing his name from the NBA Draft and returning to school for his junior season.

A 6-foot-7 wing, Adel was projected as a second round pick at best coming off of a season where he averaged 12.1 points and 4.5 rebounds while starting 30 games.

But Adel did play his best basketball down the stretch, averaging better than 16 points in Louisville’s final six games.

His return was critical for the Cardinals, who lost Donovan Mitchell to the NBA Draft. For a team that struggled to score at times this past season, losing their top two scorers would have been a brutal blow. With Adel back in the fold, Louisville looks like a top ten team that could push for an ACC title.

The Adel news was first reported by FanRag Sports.

Texas Tech forward Zach Smith returns to school after withdrawing from NBA Draft

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Texas Tech forward Zach Smith will return for his senior season, the school confirmed on Monday.

The 6-foot-8 forward is one of the most intriguing athletes in college basketball as he’s been a double-figure scorer for the Red Raiders the past two seasons. As a junior, Smith put up 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as he shot 50 percent from the field.

Three-point shooting was something that Smith improved dramatically last season as he increased it to 39 percent in a small sample size. If Smith can continue to show that he’s a perimeter shooting threat then he could be an ideal three-and-d candidate at the pro level.

By returning to Texas Tech, Smith gives head coach Chris Beard a potential all-league candidate who should be counted on to be a double-double threat next season.

 

Missouri lands five-star forward Jontay Porter

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Missouri has another member of the Porter family in the fold as forward Jontay Porter officially committed to the Tigers on Monday night.

Following in the footsteps of older brother Michael Porter Jr., and father Michael Porter Sr., Jontay is currently a member of the Class of 2018 who is rumored to be reclassifying to the Class of 2017.

A 6-foot-10 forward who was recently elevated to five-star status on Rivals.com, Porter is having a monster spring in the Nike EYBL with MoKan Elite. Porter has been one of the best players in the league, as he’s putting up 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

If Jontay is able to join Missouri next season then he gives the Tigers another intriguing piece to play alongside his brother Michael, who is good enough to be a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although Jontay isn’t the go-to player that his brother is, he could be a very effective SEC role player early in his career, as his ability to rebound and stretch the floor makes him an extremely intriguing piece on the floor.

Kevin Stallings is a tone-deaf clown

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Pitt guard Cameron Johnson is the most coveted transfer in college basketball this offseason.

The 6-foot-8 Johnson is coming off of a strong campaign with the Panthers in which he put up 11.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

Not only is Johnson a proven double-figure scorer in a league like the ACC, but he’s eligible to play right away thanks to his graduation from Pitt. Johnson graduating from school in three years and missing one season due to injury also makes him the rare graduate transfer who has two seasons of eligibility remaining. So, not only can Johnson come in and make an immediate impact, but he’s also able to stay for another year after.

This sort of thing almost never happens, let alone with a 6-foot-8 shooter that could sway the national title race.

It’s why blueblood programs like Kentucky and UCLA are in hot pursuit of Johnson. It’s why another ACC school, reigning national champion North Carolina, is also intrigued by Johnson being on the market.

Except Johnson won’t be allowed to attend North Carolina, or any other school in the ACC, without first sitting out a season and losing one season of eligibility. At least that’s how things currently stand thanks to Pitt’s power over Johnson — despite Johnson graduating from the school and having no more formal educational ties to the school.

Here’s what Pitt said on the matter in a release to the News-Observer.

“Cameron Johnson and his father were informed of our policy as well as the appeals process when they elected to seek to transfer. They went through our transfer appeals process and were granted permission to contact ACC schools; however, the committee upheld the policy to limit immediate eligibility within the conference.

If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, he would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately but would have to sit out a year of competition due to standard NCAA transfer regulations. Throughout this process, we have remained consistent to our department policy and we will continue to do so.”

Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings had a peculiar interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published about two weeks ago. During the interview, of which the full transcript was made public, Stallings went in-depth about Johnson’s transfer and the current state of college basketball. Stallings also made remarks about how the media holds programs accountable for trying to bully certain players.

Here’s a small sample of what Stallings had to say.

“But the unexpected departures are the things that are becoming more common than uncommon in college basketball. You have guys constantly trying to transfer up. You have guys going pro that have never played a minute of college basketball after they’ve sat out a year at a school. You have guys asking out of their letters of intent with frequency. We’re dealing in a landscape in college basketball right now that is as probably as difficult and peculiar as it’s ever been. It used to be if a kid signed his letter of intent and he wanted out of it, you had to play a year of junior-college ball to get out of it.

“The media didn’t basically force institutions to let people break a binding agreement. It’s kind of interesting now the media tries to put so much pressure on programs, whether it be athletic directors or coaches, saying ‘Well, the coaches can move.’ Well, hey, guess what? I’ve got a great big buyout in my deal that prevents me from moving. I’ve got something in my contract saying I can’t go to another league school. It’s not as easy for coaches to go. That’s everyone’s rationale — ‘Well, the coaches can leave.’ We’re dealing in an environment right now that is as fluid as it’s ever been. It’s just where we’re at in the whole thing with the unexpected departures.”

Stallings makes some sound points–particularly about coaches having buyouts and the general perception of coaching changes in basketball.

But Kevin Stallings mostly sounds like a tone-deaf clown here.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for a millionaire coach who willingly makes the decision to change jobs.

Nobody.

Especially if that same millionaire is comparing a choice to change jobs to the transfer decisions of unpaid student-athletes. It’s even more laughable now that Stallings is holding power over an unpaid student-athlete from going to play at another school because of purely basketball reasons.

Pitt and Stallings need to do the right thing and release Johnson to play at any school right away because Johnson has already done everything he needs to do to appease the program.

Things changed dramatically for Johnson during his three years at Pitt. He became one of the ACC’s better players and earned his degree. Johnson held up his end of the bargain when he signed his Letter of Intent.  Now Johnson just wants the chance improve his basketball future by playing with one of the nation’s elite programs.

Stallings can blame the current state of college basketball, the media, or whoever he wants for Johnson’s transfer from Pitt.

But Stallings also has to realize that he’s going to be the one who looks stupid if he continues to leave these restrictions in place for Johnson. Stallings already has a history of this sort of thing when he placed transfer restrictions on former player Sheldon Jeter. If Stallings continues to uphold transfer restrictions on Johnson, then he’s going to gain a permanent reputation in recruiting during a time when players continue to gain more freedom over their basketball futures.

If Johnson does happen to go to an ACC school like North Carolina, it’s not as if Pitt has any sort of competitive roster that is going to be fighting the Tar Heels for league supremacy during the next two seasons.

Stallings and Pitt need to just bite the bullet, let Johnson have his freedom, and hope it doesn’t come back to hurt them for one or two seasons in ACC play.

It surely beats the alternative of being labeled a head coach who limits player freedom after six players left Pitt during a single offseason. That type of burn lasts a lot longer than two years.

Presbyterian hires Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns as new head coach

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Presbyterian finally has its new head coach as the program is set to hire Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kerns, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Kerns has been an assistant at Wofford for the past seven years during his second stint with the program. Also spending six seasons as an assistant coach at Santa Clara, the Tennessee native is getting his first shot at running his own program.

Finishing last in the Big South last season at 5-25 and 1-17 in conference play, Presbyterian is trying to rebuild after head coach Gregg Nibert resigned in April. Nibert was the head coach of the Blue Hens for 28 seasons, so Kerns is going to be a completely fresh start for the program.