PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Xavier Thames, San Diego State
This was supposed to be a down year for San Diego State. This was supposed to be their rebuilding season, the in-between season where Winston Shepard and Dakarai Allen mature into stars while the Aztecs try to learn how to survive the loss of Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley. And while that is still very much the case with this group, this week proved that it’s anything-but a rebuilding year for the Aztecs, as they knocked off Charleston, Creighton and Marquette to take home the title in the Wooden Legacy.
The best player on the floor for Steve Fisher’s club was senior guard Xavier Thames, who looks like he’s ready to slide into that starring role. Thames averaged 22.0 points in the three wins, shooting 18-for-32 from the floor and 11-for-15 from three. In the wins over the Bluejays and the Golden Eagles, Thames had 26 and 29 points, respectively.
They were good, too
Ron Baker, Wichita State: Baker has been sensational through the first months of the season, and that was no different this past week as he averaged 22.0 points, 5.0 boards and 2.3 steals in wins over DePaul, BYU and at Saint Louis.
Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant will get the attention, but Ennis was awesome in Maui. He averaged 17.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 steals while turning the ball over just twice in 109 minutes.
Chad Frazier, UAB: The Blazers have been one of the biggest surprises in the country this season, and Frazier has been their best player. He averaged 21.0 points and 4.5 assists in wins over Florida A&M and UNC.
Lamar Patterson, Pitt: We got to see Patterson’s full arsenal this week: 21.7 points, 4.7 boards, 5.3 assists, 4.0 steals, 8-for-17 threes.
Sidney Sanders Jr., Fairleigh Dickinson: The Knights shocked both Rutgers and Seton Hall on the road this week, and it was Sanders that did the majority of the work. He averaged 22.5 points, 9.5 assists, 5.5 boards and 2.0 steals in the two wins.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Villanova Wildcats
Villanova was expected to be an improved team this season, but I’m not sure anyone expected the kind of start that the Wildcats have gotten off to. After rolling through Kansas and Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis, Villanova is now 7-0 on the season and ranked in the top 15.
The most impressive part about this start is that their best player, Ryan Arcidiacono has yet to really hit his rhythm. He hit the game-winner against Kansas, but he did not play well in that game. Jay Wright has gotten back to his roots with this team: deep, talented back courts surrounded by physical, blue-collar front court guys. This is a tough group with enough talent that they just might be the best team in the wide-open Big East.
They were good, too
Arizona: The Wildcats won the Preseason NIT, knocking off Duke in the title game on Friday.
Dayton: The Flyers beat Gonzaga and Cal out in Maui this week, with their only loss coming by a single point to Baylor in a game that Dayton led for much of the second half.
Memphis: The Tigers earned themselves a massive victory by knocking off Oklahoma State in the finals of the Old Spice Classic.
San Diego State: The Aztecs won the Wooden Legacy by picking up wins over both Marquette and Creighton.
Syracuse: The Orange have looked like the best team in the ACC through the first month of the season, and taking home a title in Maui isn’t going to change that perspective.
Wichita State: The Shockers notched three nice wins this week, including beating BYU in the finals of the Legends Classic and knocking off Saint Louis on the road.
Ben Simmons will likely be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, and possibly end up with the Celtics, making Boston sports junkie Bill Simmons very happy. Bill jokes about sharing a last name with a future NBA star.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS: Kris Dunn still tops a strong list
1. Kris Dunn, Providence: I had Kris Dunn as the Preseason Player of the Year, and while he probably hasn’t been the best player in the country through four games — he hasn’t yet had a statement game on national television — he is averaging 18.8 points, 7.8 boards, 6.8 assists and 5.3 steals.
And while his shooting splits are down from a season ago, he only has eight turnovers through four games. I’m not going to drop my guy when he does that just because he hasn’t gotten into the meat of his schedule yet. No way.
I’ve charted the four games that Dunn has played to determine how much of Providence’s offensive runs through him, a stat I’m going to call, for lack of a better word, possessions “ended”.
When he’s on the floor, how many of Providence’s possessions ended with Dunn shooting, getting to the free throw line, turning the ball over, assisting on a bucket, assisting on free throws or assisting on a missed shot.
Through four games, 62.6 percent of Providence’s offense runs through Dunn, which is an insanely high number and a reason that his efficiency, and shooting percentages, are going to be lower than ideal.
Defenses know this.
Illinois had all five defenders in the paint trying to stop Dunn’s ball-screen actions:
His defender went over the screen while the man guarding the screener stayed with Dunn. The weak-side defender is in the lane helping on Ben Bentil’s role to the rim while the strong-side defender is helping on Dunn’s drive. Here’s video of the entire action:
And just to put Dunn’s numbers in perspective, Valentine “ended” 60.6 percent of Michigan State’s possessions against Kansas.
3. Ben Simmons, LSU: Since we keep talking about whether or not Ben Simmons is overrated, I think this is worth mentioning: He’s currently the leading rebounder in college basketball, averaging 14.5 boards to go along with his 19.3 points, 5.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks. Oh, and he has just six turnovers in four games.
I’m not going to sit here trying to convince he’s not a great player. He is. Unquestionably. But there are a few things you need to understand when analysts and scouts try to temper the comparisons to LeBron James.
Simmons spends a lot of time at the five for LSU, meaning that he is quite often guarded by guys like Luke Fischer, a 7-footer that doesn’t have a prayer of trying to slow down a player that big and that skilled in transition or in a half court setting:
He’s also a terrific passer, one that is so skilled at making defenses pay when the help defenders are too focused on him. Look at Traci Carter when Simmons throws this lob:
That’s a direct result of the mismatches that he gets at the college level.
There are layers to this, too. The numbers you don’t hear with Simmons: he hasn’t even attempted a three-pointer this season. Through his first three games, he only shot five jump shots and missed all five. (Synergy’s logs haven’t been updated with last night’s games yet.) He’s shooting 81 percent from the line, so the stroke is there, but it has yet to manifest itself as part of his offensive repertoire.
Put it all together: NBA teams have guys that are big enough and quick enough to guard Simmons — especially if he doesn’t become a consistent shooter from the NBA three-point line — and while his passing ability rivals LeBron’s, he’s not as quick, explosive or athletic.
In simpler terms, Simmons won’t be exploiting mismatches in the NBA the way he can in college, and defenses won’t have to sellout to slow him down. That’s why I would rather see him compared to Lamar Odom, who, by the way, averaged 13.3 points, 8.4 boards and 3.7 assists in a 15-year career that produced two NBA titles and an appearance on a U.S. Olympic team.
He was damn good.
Comparing him to Odom is a compliment.
4. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: The latest argument that seems to be clogging by mentions is whether or not Ulis or Dunn is the best point guard in the country. My take: Dunn is the best player in the country while Ulis is the best point guard in the country. While the two technically play the same position, the role they play is entirely different. Ulis is a facilitator, a pure point guard. Dunn is the prototype new-age lead guard, a guy built in the mold of Russell Westbrook, John Wall and MVP-era Derrick Rose.
Ulis has been OK in three of Kentucky’s four games, but his performance in the win over Duke — 18 points, six assists, four rebounds, two steals, no turnovers — is what got him this high on this list.
5. Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen has been unbelievable in four of the five games he’s played this season, including back-to-back 30-burgers as the Blue Devils beat VCU and Georgetown in the 2K Classic. Even with that putrid performance against Kentucky, his numbers look like this: 24.4 ppg, 4.4 rg, 3.2 apg and shooting splits of 52.2/53.6/89.7.
6. Tyrone Wallace, Cal: Only one player in college basketball averaged more than 20 points, five boards and five assists last season. This year, Wallace is averaging 20.3 points, 5.8 boards and 5.3 assists for a Cal team that could end up winning the Pac-12. He’ll climb this list if his numbers look as good when the competition gets tougher.
7. Sheldon McClellan, Miami: Picking a player on Miami for this spot was tough, but I decided to go with McClellan for a couple of reason. One: He’s Miami’s leading scorer at 17.4 points. Two: his shooting splits are outrageous (61.7/52.4/94.7) meaning his efficiency numbers are outrageous as well. Three: he’s the guy on that Miami roster that, if I was an opposing coach, I would build a game-plan around stopping.
8. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield was a first-team all-american entering the season and has scored 54 points in two games this year. He went for 30 in a win at Memphis. Not bad.
9. Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga: Kyle Wiltjer was the guy that was on all the preseason all-american lists, but through two (And a half? Does Pitt still count?) games this season, Sabonis has been Gonzaga’s best player. He’s averaging 20.5 points and 10.5 boards, scoring on post-ups and offensive boards and shooting a robust 82.6 percent from the floor.
10. Evan Bradds, Belmont: There are a number of guys deserving consideration for this spot — Demetrius Jackson, Melo Trimble, Shaq Harrison, Josh Hart — but I’m going to give Bradds a little love here. Through five games, he’s averaging 21.3 points, 8.6 boards and 2.4 assists while shooting 76.2 percent from the floor. He had 24 points and nine rebounds in Belmont’s win at Marquette and, in his last two games, is averaging 29 points and 10 boards while shooting 27-for-28 from the field. A run like that can’t last, but while he’s in the middle of it, we’re going acknowledge it.