Breaking Down: Iowa State’s upset bid, a clinic on neutralizing shotblockers

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All that anyone is talking about here on Thursday — other than, of course, this ridiculous dunk that Jamaal Franklin managed to pull off — is Ben McLemore.

Deservedly so. The freshman had 33 points on 10-12 shooting in an overtime win over Iowa State. He also just so happened to bank-in the game-tying three with 1.0 seconds left in regulation. Since Kansas is the No. 6 team in the country and McLemore’s development into a go-to scorer is what makes the Jayhawks a national title contender, it’s easy to ignore the fact that Iowa State came within one fluky shot of becoming just the eighth team to beat Kansas in Phog Allen since Bill Self took over.

So how did Iowa State manage to nearly spring the massive upset?

By taking advantage of their frontcourt’s versatility.

Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim are both excellent face-up forwards. They have shot a combined 20-55 from three this season (36.4%) and have the ball-handling and passing skills to allow Fred Hoiberg to play a five-out offense. What that means is that unless either of the two big men happen to have a matchup advantage on the block, all five Cyclones will be outside the three-point line.

And on Iowa State’s first three buckets of the game, the advantage was obvious. Niang hit two threes and a 17-footer as Jeff Withey, college basketball’s best shotblocker, played way off of him. Bill Self initially began with Kevin Young on Ejim, who is more athletic and a better rebounder, but changed that matchup after the first TV timeout.

With Withey on Ejim — or Percy Gibson, when he was on the floor — it allowed Hoiberg to do a number of different things:

1. Take advantage of Withey in ball-screens situations. Kansas started out having Withey hedge-hard-and-recover on ball-screens, but that was a problem against Iowa State. For starters, the Cyclones start their ball-screen action very high:

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Which means that Withey has a long, long way to go to get himself back into the play. Since Hoiberg has so many shooters on the floor, there’s a ton of space for Clyburn to operate. As the Kansas defenders help on Will Clyburn here since Withey isn’t in the paint to protect the rim, he’s able to find Ejim wide-open for a three. But, you’ll notice in the screen-grab, Clyburn had two other teammates wide-open as well:

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You can watch that entire set here.

2. Using whoever Withey was guarding in dribble-handoffs. When Withey would guard on the perimeter, he would give his man a good five feet since he’s tall enough to contest just about any jump shot that they would take. But this left the Jayhawks susceptible to dribble-handoffs, which are, more-or-less, the same kind of action as a ball-screen. Ejim dribbles over and hands the ball off to Clyburn, who then runs directly off of Ejim’s shoulder. As you can see, Withey is in terrible position to cut-off the penetration, and it leads to a layup for Clyburn:

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You can watch the video of that entire sequence here. And here’s an example of a similar play, but instead of the dribble-handoff leading to a layup, it gets Chris Babb a wide-open three.

3. High-low post touches. Niang is a threat to score on the low-block, and he has enough size and stretch to establish position on Young. Ejim, who was 2-5 from three on Wednesday, is a capable enough passer that Hoiberg was able to use him to feed Niang on the block. Here, you can see Niang sealing Young:

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By the time Withey tries to help, Niang is already finishing an and-one:

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The Cyclones finished the game 14-38 from beyond the arc, which is something they absolutely needed to do if they were going to have a chance to win this game.

Fred Hoiberg put together a terrific game-plan to neutralize Jeff Withey’s shotblocking ability and take advantage of the perimeter ability of their big men, and Iowa State executed it to perfection.

Now only if he had fouled up three with 8.4 seconds left

(All screen-grabs are from ESPNU’s broadcast of the game)

Previous Breaking Down posts can be found here.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Wichita State getting more national respect with non-conference scheduling

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Wichita State is starting to gain more national respect with regards to its non-conference schedule.

Since moving to the American Athletic Conference this spring, the Shockers have not only gained the benefit of being in a multi-bid league every year, but they’re also getting better teams to play them outside of conference play.

According to a report from Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle, the Shockers now have non-conference games scheduled with Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this season. With Wichita State also playing in the Maui Invitational, it gives the Shockers plenty of opportunities to schedule quality opponents and improve its NCAA tournament seeding. And that’s before Wichita State starts conference play.

Although Wichita State was getting invited regularly to prestigious non-conference tournaments such as Maui or the Battle 4 Atlantis, they were having a tough time getting certain schools to book home-and-home series. The Baylor series signifies a small, but significant, change to how Wichita State might be able to do things now.

USC forward Bennie Boatwright returning for junior year

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USC has a chance to be really good next season as forward Bennie Boatwright announced that he’s returning for his junior season.

The 6-foot-10 forward put up 15.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range as his return means that the Trojans should be a major contender in the Pac-12 next season. Elijah Stewart also announced this week that he is returning as USC could start Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Stewart, Boatwright and Chimezie Metu next season.

With Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. also becoming eligible and McDonald’s All-American guard Charles O’Bannon Jr. entering the program, the Trojans are a potential top-10 team.

Following decommitment, four-star recruit makes eye-opening remarks about Ohio State

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Ohio State lost a four-star recruit on Wednesday when in-state Class of 2018 wing Darius Bazley opted to open up his recruitment.

As a rising senior who is just finishing his junior season of high school, Bazley’s decommitment isn’t going to immediately hurt the Buckeyes next season. But the 6-foot-7 wing’s comments about why he opted to open up his recruitment are pretty jarring.

In a story with Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch, Bazley opened up about why he decommitted from Ohio State. Bazley’s eye-opening remarks include how the Buckeyes might not get him ideal NBA exposure and how Ohio State might miss the NCAA tournament in his freshman year.

“I was excited when I first got the offer,” Bazley said to Jardy. “Ohio State is still a great place. It’s nothing against the school or anything, but my one ultimate goal is to get to the NBA and I just didn’t feel as confident as I did when I first committed that Ohio State was one of those schools that could get me there. At the end of the day I’ve got to perform no matter where I go, but I think there’s other schools out there that could put me on a bigger stage and in a better position to show those NBA scouts when I get to college what I can do.”

Bazley also didn’t appear to be pleased at the recruiting class coming into Ohio State for the Class of 2017, which is the class that is coming in this season. Remember, Bazley is a Class of 2018 recruit who still has to finish his senior season.

“Ohio State, they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year,” Bazley said to Jardy. “They didn’t even make the NIT, which is unfortunate, but I looked into the recruits they have coming into next year, they didn’t look too good for the future. So I felt like when my class came in, yeah, we would’ve been OK, but good enough to make the tournament? I don’t know. I just felt as if I was to de-commit, actually take my time, figure everything out it would just be a lot better.”

Ohio State was once one of the major destinations for one-and-done players a decade ago so these remarks are very surprising. D’Angelo Russell was a top-five pick in the NBA Draft only two years ago, and while the Buckeyes might not be as successful in recent years as they once were, they still get plenty of national exposure with regards to producing NBA talent.

The NCAA tournament comments might carry some more weight though. The Buckeyes have missed the NCAA tournament in two consecutive seasons and things are also looking difficult for them to reach the Big Dance for next season. If Bazley wants to play in the NCAA tournament, then I could understand him wanting to open things up and explore more options.

Still, you don’t often see a player make comments like this about a school after decommitting–especially a program with as much national exposure as Ohio State. Bazley is likely going to face some heat for his remarks, but if those are his true feelings about a future life decision, then he should explore what else is out there.

Nevada gets transfer commitment from Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman

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Nevada continues to build its roster through transfers as the Wolf Pack added Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman on Thursday.

The 6-foot-7 Thurman will have to sit out one season before playing his senior season but he is coming off of a very good campaign for the Mavericks. The versatile forward put up 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.

One of the Summit League’s better players the last two seasons, Thurman should be a solid rotation forward for Nevada as he has a chance to be a breakout player with one more year of development. If Thurman can improve his 25 percent three-point shooting then he could be a major factor for Nevada.

D-League salaries, two-way contracts increase NBA Draft early entries

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Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how it’s dumb to criticize players for entering the NBA Draft without costing themselves their collegiate eligibility when the NCAA’s new NBA Draft rules are specifically designed for said players to be able to do that.

In that column, I mentioned that D-League salaries are on the rise and that the NBA’s new CBA instituted something called “two-way contracts,” and I wanted a chance to elaborate and clarify a couple of the points that I made.

Let’s start with the “two-way contracts,” which NBA teams each get two of. They are essentially a retainer that those teams can place on younger players they want to be the 16th and 17th men on their roster, holding their rights as they bounce between the D-League — where they will likely spend the majority of the year — and the NBA. The catch is that those players have to have less than three years service as a professional, and the point of it is to provide a financial incentive for younger players with the potential to reach the NBA to remain stateside while allowing those NBA teams to develop them.

That financial incentive is fairly large, as well: Two-way players will make $75,000 guaranteed and will be able to make up to $275,000, depending on the amount of time they spend with the NBA team.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that can end up paying players with less than three years of professional basketball experience upwards of a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

That’s not a bad starting salary.

The other point that I wanted to address is the rising D-League salaries which, technically, will not be rising. There are still going to be Tier A and Tier B players, who make $26,000 and $20,000 respectively. But the NBA has something called affiliate players, which each of the now-25 NBA teams with a D-League affiliate can pay up to $50,000 for training camp. NBA teams are allowed a maximum of four affiliate players, who will still make their $26,000 salary from their D-League team.

In other words, that’s 100 more jobs available in the United States where a professional basketball player can make $76,000, and that’s before you consider that the five NBA teams that do not yet have a D-League affiliate will still have to play players to get them into training camp.

That $76,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $275,000 that a two-way contract can pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a 21-year old sophomore decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chase his NBA dream by making $76,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, 135 of the 450 players, or 30 percent of the roster spots, on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.