Digging for basketball stories in the offseason is tough sledding. Oddly enough, as the first games draw closer, news gets even harder to find, and the reason is a familiar one for college hoop-heads: football done stole all our candy.
Any newspaper that covers college sports extensively is talking kickoff this week, so I’m going to take this opportunity to dig into a question of great interest to schools in the new Big East – the one without big time pigskin.
One of my favorite team-specific blogs is Paint Touches. It’s a Marquette site that eschews the easy storyline and goes for the deep dirt every time, often with an assist from tempo-free stats. Currently, editor Andrei Greska is looking forward to the announcement of the league slate, which should happen sometime in the upcoming week. His focus falls on the new/old league’s announcement that they will protect one “natural rivalry” for each school, pairing teams in unbreakable grudge matches.
I’ll focus on the one Greska thinks is most likely, and the one that sounds the most interesting. He ranked the perceived likelihood of each partner on a scale of 1-9, with 9 being the most likely to occur.
DePaul Pros: Closest school in proximity; easy for fanbases to travel; long history of playing against each other with over 100 games played; basically two home games for Marquette as more students go to MU from Illinois than any other state, including Wisconsin; gives announcers plenty to work with (Al vs Meyer) Cons: Inferior quality the past decade leading to lopsided results; no bad blood Likelihood: 9
Butler Pros:Two fantastic games last season; similar scrappy/tough style; relatively close in distance; Cons: New kids on the block; Brad Stevens is gone will the magic be as well?; Rotnei Clarke is gone Likelihood: 7
Now, the physical proximity of Marquette and DePaul makes a ton of sense, and it is likely the league will pair the two. But god, what a stinkeroo. Honestly, DePaul and anyone is a stinkeroo right now. If anything, it’ll be a nice way for Buzz Williams to get some easy face time and swipe some Windy City recruits out from under Oliver Purnell’s nose.
The one that sounds exciting is Butler-Marquette. Rather than create a rivalry out of mutual disinterest, why not play on the visceral appeal of last season’s clashes between the Bulldogs and Golden Eagles? Two scrappy teams that build contenders out of players who don’t fit into any mold? Sign me up.
We’ll keep an eye out for that schedule announcement. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for some creative thinking on those rivalries.
The star point guard for the Blue Jays had an MRI on Tuesday to determine the damage suffered in his left knee, and it revealed a torn ACL. Watson entered Monday’s game at Xavier averaging 13.4 points and a nation’s-best 8.8 assists on the season. He was the engine that made Creighton’s high-octane offense work.
“Devastated for [him],” head coach Greg McDermott said. “His impact on our program has been incredible. His leadership will continue to be vital to our success.”
With Watson, who was having an all-american season and was seventh in our Player of the Year Power Rankings as of Tuesday, Creighton was a team with Final Four upside. Their defense was a concern, but their ability to score in transition and to get easy looks from three – both of which were largely due to the ability of Watson – ensured that teams were going to have to score in the 80s to beat them.
Without Watson, Creighton was able to hang on to beat Xavier in Cincinnati, but it’s unclear what the future will hold. Isaiah Zierdan replaced Watson at the point down the stretch, and Greg McDermott does have a number of talented guards on his roster, but that doesn’t do much to mitigate was is a devastating loss for this team.
Watson released a statement on twitter on Tuesday:
It's been a fun ride. really devastated but it's about the get back & my chase to my dreams and back on the court starts now! #jayspic.twitter.com/TssBFgyUmT
1. Frank Mason III, Kansas 2. Josh Hart, Villanova 3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: At this point in the year, I feel pretty comfortable making the guarantee that the National Player of the year is going to be one of these three players for three reasons:
All three of them are not just an important piece but the critical component to their team’s success.
The team’s that they play on could very well be the three best teams in college basketball, and I’ve always been of the mindset that winning matters when it comes to Player of the Year and all-american honors.
Their numbers alone are good enough to get them into the conversation even if they didn’t happen to be the best player on one of the best teams in the country.
Frankly, the more that I think about it, labeling this a two-horse race was probably wrong. I’ve had Lonzo Ball third in these rankings for more or less the entire season, but there’s always been a gap between him and the two guys slotted above. Ball’s numbers are ridiculous – 14.6 points, 8.0 assists, 5.5 boards, 1.8 steals, 2.3 turnovers – but it’s what he’s done to that UCLA team that I’ve under-valued. Ball is a talent, and so is T.J. Leaf, but on paper, the difference between this team and last year’s team shouldn’t be as stark as going from a 15-17 season to a year where they are a buzzer-beating three at Oregon away from being undefeated on Jan. 17th. Ball’s presence did that.
The other difference?
I have Frank Mason III as the current leader for the award. Part of that is because Josh Hart has had a couple of bad games in a row and Mason, in the three games since we last convened here, led comebacks at Oklahoma and against Oklahoma State before guiding Kansas to a win at Iowa State. But there is also an argument to be made that Josh Hart has been somewhat figured out in league play. Teams can key in on him and he isn’t quite to the point where he has a response. Big 12 opponents haven’t been able to do that against Kansas.
That, however, is the definition of picking nits, but that’s what we have to do to differentiate these three at this point.
Because when the chips are down, those three players, at this point in the season, have all been sensational, and I would have no issue with someone picking either of the three to win the award.
4. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: In Purdue’s only game last week, Swanigan had “just” 17 points and eight boards, but he had a late turnover, missed a critical, point-black shot with less than a minute left and then watched a ball bounce out of bounds that was ruled – probably incorrectly – to be off of Purdue. It wasn’t the greatest finish we’ve seen out of a player this year.
5. Luke Kennard, Duke: In the first 14 games of the season, Luke Kennard averaged 13.9 shots per night and consistently churned out enough terrific performances that he deservedly has been the only Duke player considered for a spot on all-american teams all season long. In the last four games, however, Kennard is averaging just 9.8 shots, which can be attributed to a couple of different things. I don’t think the issue is defenses being more focused in on stopping him, mainly because I think the issue is Jayson Tatum.
Tatum has led the Blue Devils in field goal attempts in six of the last seven games. His usage rate (the percentage of possessions that end with him while he’s on the floor) is 27.8 on the season despite posting an offensive rating of 105.1, meaning he scores 1.051 points-per-possession. In the last seven games, he’s only had an offensive rating better than 109 in home games against Georgia Tech and Boston College.
Kennard, on the season, has an offensive rating of 133.5, which is third nationally for players that with a usage rate above 20, but his usage rate is stuck at 21.7. In other words, the numbers back up what our eyes have been telling us – that Duke’s offensive isn’t as good when the offense flows through Tatum instead of Kennard.
6. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox is the most important player on Kentucky, and I don’t understand people that argue otherwise. Malik Monk can win games with his ability to score, but Fox ‘s ability to defend and to turn defense into offense is why the Wildcats are in a position for Monk to win games with his scoring alone.
7. Mo Watson Jr., Creighton: It looks like Creighton dodged a bullet on Monday. There has yet to be an official diagnosis, but what initially to be a non-contact knee injury for Watson, it appears that there is no ligament damage. A torn meniscus will not be an easy thing to recover from, but a bone bruise would be. Here’s to hoping he’s OK, but Watson is the engine that makes Creighton’s high-powered offense run.
8. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Berry has been fantastic this season, and there’s a very strong argument to be made that he’s the ACC’s Player of the Year as of today. He is everything we wanted Marcus Paige to be over the course of the last two seasons.
9. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss has been terrific this season, and I’m not sure how many people have noticed. After posting 19 points and six assists in a 23-point win over No. 21 Saint Mary’s, he’s averaging 15.2 points, 5.8 boards, 4.9 assists and 1.7 steals with shooting splits of 49.5/41.1/89.5. This is the best Gonzaga team Mark Few has ever had, and Williams-Goss is the best player on the roster.
10. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Luke Kennard is third nationally in offensive rating for players with a usage rate that’s better than 20. No. 1 on that list? Lauri Markkanen, who is quietly having a terrific season for the Wildcats.
JUST MISSED THE CUT
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
Markelle Fultz, Washington
Josh Jackson, Kansas
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
Melo Trimble, Maryland
CBT Podcast: Luke Winn joins to talk Kansas and their unorthodox backcourt
Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn, Mr. Power Rankings himself, joined the podcast this week to talk about something other than the Power Rankings.
Luke wrote a long feature on Kansas’ back court of Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham, a serendipitous pairing of former mid-major recruits that have turned into arguably the nation’s best pair of guards and the next great two-point guard back court. You can read that story here. You can listen to the podcast below.
Mark Gottfried is probably the happiest man in the world that his N.C. State team played – and lost – a home game against Georgia Tech on Sunday night, overlapping with the end of the thrilling Green Bay-Dallas NFC Playoff game.
The biggest issue? Gottfried’s nonchalance at the way that a team with the talent to finish in the top six of the ACC and get to a Final Four is playing. The Wolfpack should not be sitting at 1-4 in the ACC having already played BC and Georgia Tech. Gottfried told the media after on the loss to Boston College that his team “got better,” which was as laughable then as it is now.
On Sunday night, he certainly did not try and view his team through rose-colored glasses:
That’s about as mad and emotional as you’ll see Gottfried get.
And he’s got every right to be mad, because the Wolfpack – who count a future top five pick, another future first rounder and at least three more guys that will get a shot on NBA Summer League teams – currently sit at the bottom of the ACC standings and third-to-last in KenPom’s ACC rankings.
The biggest issue is on the defensive end of the floor, which Gottfried made so clear Sunday.
“It’s embarrassing,” he said. “We’ve got to decide if we want to play some defense. I can talk about it for 2 hours every day at practice, at some point, they better make a decision. Right now, we struggle to guard anybody.”
The numbers back it up. N.C. State is dead last in the ACC in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric and the only high-major programs that are worse than them defensively are Michigan, Washington State, DePaul, LSU, Washington and Arizona State. The Wolfpack are by far the most talented team out of that group, and probably the most athletic as well. They should be good defensively, but, if you talk to coaches in the league and NBA scouts that have watched that team play, the most consistent knock on them is, simply, that they don’t play hard.
And that may be more worrying than any of the results the Wolfpack have posted this season.
“I don’t want to paint the picture that I walk in there every night, even after a loss, it’s Pollyanna inside my locker room,” Gottfried said. “I think it’s time they understand, they need to understand. I can coddle them, I can baby them, but they have to take ownership.”
VIDEO: Roy Williams gets customized shoes from Michael Jordan
Roy Williams became the second-fastest coach to get to 800 career wins last night, and to honor him, UNC did things like put together a video presentation, give him a jersey with the number 800 and bring him to the center of the Dean Dome floor to get cheered by everyone in attendance.
But it was Michael Jordan whose gift floored everyone.
Because MJ got Ol’ Roy a pair of customized shoes, and it just about killed Brandon Robinson: