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.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown:

Niang, Morris lead No. 14 Iowa State past No. 24 Texas

Iowa State forward Georges Niang drives past Texas guard Tevin Mack, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After falling at Texas Tech for the second straight season midweek, No. 14 Iowa State needed to bounce back with No. 24 Texas visiting Hilton Coliseum. The return of Jameel McKay, who was suspended for two games, certainly helped the Cyclones and the play of Georges Niang and Monte Morris was key as well. But the biggest difference on this night was the fact that Iowa State was able to limit the effectiveness of Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor.

 

Taylor scored just nine points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field, and with Morris and Niang scoring 24 points apiece the Cyclones won by the final score of 85-75.

Taylor had multiple opportunities to make plays around the basket thanks to his ability to beat defenders off the bounce, but he struggled to finish. Add in a 0-for-4 night from three, and Texas’ most dangerous offensive option was unable to duplicate his performance in the first meeting between the two teams. In Texas’ 94-91 overtime win over the Cyclones January 12, Taylor scored 28 points and dished out six assists with just one turnover, shooting 11-for-17 from the field.

Four Longhorns finished in double figures, with Tevin Mack and Javan Felix scoring 18 apiece, but with Morris decisively winning the point guard matchup Texas was unable to pick up the win on the road.

For Iowa State the aforementioned tandem of Morris and Niang performed as they did in the first meeting, which should come as no surprise. What helped them, especially when it came to Texas attacking the basket, was the presence of McKay. McKay finished the game with eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 22 minutes of action, and to have their best interior defender back on the floor certainly helped the Cyclones on this night.

With their lack of depth Iowa State’s margin for error is small, especially when it comes to foul trouble, injuries and disciplinary reasons. Even with Texas’ size advantage Iowa State outscored them in the paint 48-34, and McKay’s defensive ability factored into that. The Cyclones can put points on the board with the best of them, but at some point they’ll need to string together stops as the games get even bigger.

Iowa State managed to do that down the stretch, with Morris and Niang running the show offensively. And that’s a good formula to be able to rely upon as the season approaches its most important month.