Rick Barnes

Lone Star State results prove recruiting is only part of the puzzle

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Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard has done a mighty favor for all of us cheapskates. He used his ESPN Insider access to read Dave Telep’s paywalled article about which programs have landed the most top 100 recruits and then passed the info along out in the open.

Waters was, of course, focused on Syracuse, which came in seventh on the strength of twelve top 100 signees over the past five years. Not a bad showing, and the Orange had a Final Four appearance this past season to show for it. Kentucky was, of course, tops on the list, with a whopping 23 blue-chippers, with a huge dropoff to Arizona and UNC, who shared the No. 2 slot with 16 apiece. The likes of Kansas, Duke, UCLA, Memphis and Indiana made the list as well.

The two programs that stood out as disappointments both came from Texas. The Longhorns of Austin tied with Duke for the third slot, with each landing 14 top prospects apiece. Just below Syracuse at No. 8 was Baylor, which has reeled in eleven mega-talents in a half decade. The Bears have done well in the years they made the tournament, just missing the Final Four in 2010 and 2012. But they seem to be in a on-again, off-again pattern, missing the Dance entirely in alternating seasons.

The Longhorns, on the other hand, appear to falter more every season recently. Rick Barnes and his squad haven’t played on the tourney’s second weekend since 2008, and they stumbled to a losing record last season with only part-time contributions from the stellar Myck Kabongo.

So, is talent overrated? Not really. It’s a must for a team that wants to win consistently in a top league, and continue to win in the postseason. But clearly Scott Drew and Rick Barnes are running into deficiencies in other aspects of the game, despite the truly impressive recruiting hauls they are able to bring in. They’ve had stability at head coach (Barnes is the dean of Big 12 coaches with sixteen years under his belt), strong overall support from their athletic departments, and obviously some dominant talent. But they haven’t been able to establish consistency.

If you’re looking for one sign that these teams have what it takes to turn it around, the evidence lies at kenpom.com. A quick look at the defensive efficiency numbers for both Lone Star squads for the past five years shows that both Barnes and Drew have their teams playing grinding defense; always in the top half of the Big 12 standings, quite often in the top three. That’s not easy to do when you’re recruiting athletic one-and-dones.

This will be an interesting year to watch Baylor and Texas. Both continue to pull in talent, but underwhelm fans with their recent results. With Kansas and Oklahoma State holding presumptive title to the top of the Big 12, the Bears and Longhorns will need to find a way to marry the defense and firepower into something impressive, or risk being left behind in the league race for a good long while.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the NBCSports.com Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.