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.

South Carolina coach suspends G Rakym Felder indefinitely

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Rakym Felder has been suspended indefinitely and won’t attend classes this fall, another blow to a thinning Gamecock backcourt that reached the Final Four this past April.

Felder’s status was announced by coach Frank Martin on Wednesday.

Felder had been suspended since June 30 for his involvement in a fight outside a bar. He was arrested July 13 and charged with assault and battery.

“Due to some unfortunate decisions by Rakym, he has been suspended indefinitely from our program,” Martin said in a statement.

Felder’s loss further weakens a South Carolina team that was already short in the backcourt after last season’s NCAA Tournament run. Three starting guards from last year, including leading scorer Sindarius Thornwell, along with rising sophomore P.J. Dozier, are no longer with the team. Dozier entered the NBA draft and, after not getting selected, signed this month with the Dallas Mavericks.

Thornwell signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, who picked him in the second round.

Felder, from Brooklyn, New York, was supposed to slide into one of the openings created by the departing guards. He played in 36 games last season, averaging 14.6 minutes off the bench.

Like the rest of the team, Felder stepped things up in the NCAAs. He scored 15 points, including going 7-of-8 at the foul line in the final five minutes to hold off No. 2 seed Duke, 88-81, in the second round.

Felder had nine points and three assists in South Carolina’s Sweet 16 win, a 70-50 victory over No. 3 seed Baylor.

Minus Felder, the Gamecocks only guard from South Carolina’s regular rotation with experience at South Carolina is junior Hassani Gravett.

Felder took full responsibility for his actions and apologized to the school, the team and Gamecock fans in a statement through his attorney, Neal Lourie.

“I know I have let you down and I will have to work hard to regain your trust,” Felder said.

Lourie said Felder has personal issues that “he cannot fix alone and requires professional help.” Lourie did not elaborate on those problems.

This is the second time Felder has been arrested since enrolling. Last October, he was tasered by police stemming from a bar fight and charged with six counts, including assault and battery and resisting arrest.

Felder entered a pre-trial intervention program and played after missing only one game. “‘He’s a beautiful kid, not a good kid, a beautiful kid,” Martin said on Nov. 13 in defense of playing Felder against Holy Cross.

Lourie requested a jury trial on Felder’s latest charge. A trial date has not been set.

Martin said he’ll stand by Felder this time, too, and continue to “help Rakym grown as a young man even though basketball is not part of our relationship right now.”

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Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

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A top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is among those in the mix for the top spot in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday: