Brandon Paul

Christmas Wish List: Who is Illinois’ Deebo?

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Over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams need. It’s the spirit of the holidays. We’re in a giving mood.

What do other teams have on their Christmas Wish Lists? Click here to find out.

Gotta have it list-topper: A bully on the block

Illinois is what it is. They are a team loaded with perimeter talent and three-point shooters and they play to their strength. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially when you have someone playing as well as Brandon Paul has this season and you have shooters as good as Tyler Griffey, Joseph Bertrand and DJ Richardson. What Illinois is missing, however, is that bulldog in the paint, their Deebo. They don’t really have anyone that has proven to be a defensive force inside, a guy that can wipe the glass clean while making it difficult for opposing big men to get position on the block.

Is Nnanna Egwu the guy? He’s the best athlete on the Illini’s front line, but he’s not a very good rebounder. Sam McLaurin has been incredibly active on the offensive glass this season, but he hasn’t been great on the defensive side of the ball. Illinois is 139th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. They will probably never be a great defensive team, but the easiest way for them to improve is to eliminate second chances opportunities.

Stocking stuffer: Brandon Paul consistency

It’s tough to truly be consistent when your game is built around three-point markmenship. That is, more or less, Paul’s game. This season he has become more aggressive off the bounce, especially in pick-and-roll situations, and he’s making better decisions on when to shoot, which is part of the reason he’s climbing NBA Draft boards after a hot start to the year. But that doesn’t change the fact that his game is centered around his jumper, and on the nights that jumper isn’t going down, the Illini can look rather mediocre. Jump shooters, by nature, are streaky. Illinois just needs to hope that Paul spends more time near the peaks and less down in those 2-12 valleys.

Planning on re-gifting: Three-point gunners

43.2% of Illinois’ field goal attempts come from behind the arc. 39.0% of their points this season have come via the three-ball. They quite literally live by the three and die by the three, and while they haven’t “died” yet — they are still undefeated despite a handful of close calls against mediocre competition — it’s a risk that John Groce is going to have to deal with all season long. Would it be nice if they attacked the basket and got to the foul line more often? Sure, they’d be more balanced, but it would also take away from some of their aggressiveness and what they do best. Maybe they just need to hope Brandon Paul continues to go off against top competition.

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

Skal Labissiere has not been cleared by the NCAA

Kelly Kline/Under Armour
Kelly Kline/Under Armor
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While the timeline surrounding Cheick Diallo’s eligibility has made headlines for months now, another elite recruit at a blue blood program is still awaiting word on whether or not he will be allowed to play college basketball this season.

Kentucky center Skal Labissiere, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2015 and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, has not yet been cleared to play this season. His guard, Gerald Hamilton, confirmed as much to ESPN earlier today.

“Not yet,” Hamilton said. “We’re just trying to get everything squared away. They are asking a few questions.

“They haven’t cleared him, but we’re sticking with our faith. There’s no real concern about anything from the Kentucky compliance people.”

Labissiere has more red flags than you can count, almost all of them pertaining to Hamilton. It was the worst kept secret in high school basketball that Hamilton more or less had Labissiere for sale. It’s why he played three different AAU programs and two different high schools in four years. Hamilton runs a non-profit called Reach Your Dream and, after a transfer rendered him ineligible for his senior high school season, Labissiere played for a team called ‘Reach Your Dream Prep’, which Hamilton founded simply to ensure Labissiere had a place to play.

Here’s how summarized things back in November:

Multiple coaches who have recruited Labissiere told Hamilton either directly indicated or strongly suggested pursuing Labissiere would mostly be a waste of time if they couldn’t offer assistance in helping fund his foundation. One coach from a prominent staff said: “We couldn’t even get in the door.” Another added: “We recognized what it was about early on and decided not to get involved.”

In other words, no one is surprised that the NCAA is looking into Labissiere’s situation, and it’s not hard to look at Kentucky bringing in Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard as a sign that they’re not completely certain that Labissiere will make it through this. The surprise is in how quiet that investigation has been over the course of the last few months.

The shame in all of this is that Labissiere is a sweet kid with an incredible back-story. He survived the devastating earthquake in Haiti despite having a house collapse on him. If he can get through this investigation, he’ll easily be one of the biggest and most likeable stars in the sport this season.

Xavier commit to enroll early, redshirt

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Xavier landed a commitment on Wednesday from four-star big man Eddie Ekiyor, a source confirmed to

Ekiyor, who picked the Musketeers over Miami and Florida, is a borderline top 100 recruit. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-8 post that shouldn’t have an issue adjusting to the pace and physicality of the game, although he needs to continue to develop offensively to be more than a catch-and-dunk big man down the road.

In other words, on paper, Ekiyor isn’t much different from the majority of high major big men. But what’s different about this situation is that Ekiyor will be enrolling at Xavier for the start of the spring semester, technically making him a member of the Class of 2015. Xavier won’t be rushing him through the process — he’ll redshirt the second half of the 2015-16 season — but getting him on campus early will allow him an extra six months of learning the Xavier system, developing in collegiate practices and working out with the Xavier strength coaches.

That should help him limit the adjustment phase as he transitions from high school. That’s important for the Musketeers, because there’s a chance that they could lose their starting front line — James Farr (graduation) and Jalen Reynolds (early entry) — after this season.