Ron Baker

College Basketball Talk’s Top 20 Most Improved Players

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Prior to the season, every pundit for every outlet across the country will put together his or her list of players with the potential to have a breakout season.

Which freshmen will have big sophomore seasons? Which seniors will finally get the chance to step into a starring role? What transfers spent their redshirt year transforming their body and perfecting their weaknesses? 

Sometimes, we’re spot on. Other times, we completely whiff. One month into the season, here is a look at this year’s Breakout Stars:

TOP 20 MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS

J.J. Avila, Colorado State: Avila, a transfer from Navy, has been the biggest reason that the Rams haven’t dropped off much this season. He’s averaging 19.5 points and 6.3 boards. Jon Octeus and Daniel Bejarano also could be listed here.

Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico: A solid role player for three years, Bairstow has turned into one of the nation’s best big men. He’s averaging 19.8 points, 7.1 boards and 2.8 assists.

Ron Baker, Wichita State: Ron Baker was a key role player for the Shockers last season. He’s turned into arguably their best player this year, a 6-foot-4 combo-guard averaging 15.3 points, 4.6 boards and 3.6 assists. Scouts that go to watch Cleanthony Early leave raving about Baker.

Cameron Clark and Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Many predicted Buddy Hield to develop into a star this season. He has, but the bigger surprise has been Clark. A top 30 recruit coming out of high school, Clark has turned into an all-Big 12 caliber wing.

Trevor Cooney, Syracuse: Amazing what a bit of confidence will do. Cooney’s averaging 15.3 points, shooting 48.4% from three and averaging 2.8 steals this season after playing last year as a liability.

Kellen Dunham, Butler: Dunham is doing his best to make Butler fans forget about Rotnei Clarke (and Ro Jones and Brad Stevens), averaging 19.1 points and shooting 46.4% from three while taking more than seven-per-game.

Perry Ellis, Kansas: Ellis has been the most consistent offensive option for Kansas this season, leading the team at 14.5 points while grabbing 6.8 boards per game.

source:  Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: Ferrell has become the leader that he needs to be for the Hoosiers to be competitive this season, averaging 17.0 points and 4.0 assists. His numbers take a bit of a hit because of the lack of scorers that Indiana has.

Shaq Goodwin, Memphis: On a team with a stable of perimeter weapons, Goodwin’s emergence has a presence on the block is key for the Tigers. He’s averaging 13.1 points and 6.1 boards as a sophomore this season.

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: It happens every year. Bo Ryan somehow manages to turn a guy that’s spent a couple years as a big stiff into an all-Big Ten caliber post with three-point range. Kaminsky is averaging 14.6 points, 5.9 boards, 2.1 blocks and shooting 41.1% from three. He went for 43 points in a game earlier this year.

Cady Lalanne, UMass: Lalanne is finally living up to his talent this season, averaging 15.0 points and 10.4 boards as the Minutemen’s best interior presence. His emergence is a major reason why UMass will compete for the Atlantic 10 title.

Jake Layman, Maryland: Layman’s improvement will get lost in the shuffle in Maryland keeps sputtering, but he’s a 6-foot-8 wing that’s averaging 14.4 points and shooting 44.4% from three.

Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas, Michigan: LeVert will get a lot of attention, going from a guy that saw limited minutes to a wing that averages 13.9 points. But Stauskas has made the real jump. He was a spot-up shooter last year. He’s one of the 20 best all-around offensive weapons in college basketball this season.

Codi Miller-McIntyre, Wake Forest: Miller-McIntyre still isn’t as consistent as he’d like to be from the perimeter, but it’s hard to nitpick a kid averaging 17.9 points, 4.4 assists and just 1.5 turnovers.

Marcus Paige, North Carolina: As good as North Carolina’s big men have been in wins over Louisville and Michigan State, it’s been Paige’s emergence as a star — 18.8 ppg, 4.5 apg, 39.2% 3PT — that has kept the Tar Heels afloat without P.J. Hairston.

Lamar Patterson, Pitt: Pitt will compete for the ACC title this year, and Patterson’s improvement in the biggest reason why. He’s averaging 16.2 points, 5.o boards, 5.1 assists and 1.8 steals this year.

Casey Prather, Florida: After three seasons of being a defensive stopper and a glue guy, Prather has turned into a big-time scorer this season, averaging 19.1 points. Yeah, I don’t get it either.

Xavier Thames, San Diego State: No Jamaal Franklin? No Chase Tapley? No problem. Thames has taken over the role of SDSU’s big-shot maker this year.

Other names considered: Devon Collier, Maurice Creek, Justin Jackson, Naz Long, Cameron Wright

Indiana’s OG Anunoby out indefinitely with knee injury

Indiana's OG Anunoby (3) dunks in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Michigan in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Michigan won 72-69. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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The exact extent and specific diagnosis of the injury suffered by Indiana sophomore OG Anunoby isn’t yet public, but the Hoosiers offered a brief update Thursday.

“OG sustained a knee injury this past Wednesday night’s game against Penn State and is in the midst of ongoing medical evaluations,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said in a statement released by the school. “He will be out indefinitely.”

Anunoby went down clutching his knee late in the first half against the Nittany Lions and did not return, with many fearing the severity of the injury after Crean delivered an emotional post-game interview following Indiana’s three-point win.

The 6-foot-8 forward has largely been considered a potential lottery pick in this June’s NBA draft. He’s averaged 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game this season.

Indiana’s first game back is Saturday at home against Michigan State followed by road games against Michigan and Northwestern the following week. The Hoosiers are 13-6 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten.

Report: Villanova and UConn set to renew series

Villanova's Kyle Lowry (1) goes up for a shot over Connecticut's Josh Boone (21) Monday, February 13, 2006 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, PA. Villanova University (4) upset University of Connecticut (1) 69-64. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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Another former Big East Rivalry will be renewed soon.

Villanova and Connecticut are set to resume a home-and-home series next year, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The Huskies will host the first game of the series with the return game coming in 2018, though exact dates and venues have not yet been set.

Since the Big East split in recent years, the two teams have met once, in the 2014 NCAA tournament when the Huskies went on to win a national championship.

UConn played Syracuse earlier this year while the Orange also took on St. John’s and Georgetown in a rematch of former Big East rivals now spread across the realignment landscape.

While the new iteration of the Big East is as strong as its best since the basketball schools bolted – with the Wildcats the defending champions and Creighton and Xavier both having big years – it’s encouraging to see that the classic matchups  of the old Big East aren’t being completely abandoned in this new era of hoops, not only for nostalgia purposes but because they remain some of the best brands and programs in the sport.

CBT Podcast: Jeff Goodman of ESPN joins to talk point guards, suspensions and injuries

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Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com joined the podcast today to discuss Allonzo Trier, Mo Watson Jr., what O.G. Anunoby’s knee injury means for Indiana and the point guards you can trust in college hoops this season.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

Bracketology: Resume, metrics have Villanova No. 1

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 03: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in front of Lamarr Kimble #0 of the Saint Joseph's Hawks in the first half at The Pavilion on December 3, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Saint Joseph's Hawks 88-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Recently, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Selection Committee made public its intent to evaluate options for integrating additional analytics and metrics into its process for selecting and seeding teams for the NCAA tournament.  How that might eventually look we don’t know.  What metrics will be included?  Will there be any weighting for certain metrics (such as the current Ratings Percentage Index or RPI) over others?  It’s an interesting twist, although not necessarily that new.  Selection Committee members have had various data points at their fingertips for years.  How each chose to use (or not use) ratings such as BPI, KenPom, Sagarin, and others is unknown; none were a part of the “official” process and rarely discussed publicly.

The point today isn’t to have a lengthy discussion about the merits of various analytic tools.  Rather, it provides an opportunity to look at how a new system might look.  One of the concepts mentioned was the potential for a “composite” ranking that would factor in a given set of analytic metrics.  In the interest of today’s bracket update, here’s a look at some rankings and the “composite” for the top six teams on the seed list (data points were through games played on Tuesday).

The metrics included: RPI, NPI (Warren Nolan), ELO Chess, KenPom, Sagarin, and BPI.  Composite ranking is in parenthesis, based upon an average of these metrics.

  1. Villanova (2.33)
  2. Kansas (4.83)
  3. Baylor (9.00)
  4. UCLA (11.16)
  5. Kentucky (3.16)
  6. Gonzaga (6.50)

As you can see, the composite score would favor moving Kentucky and Gonzaga into spots two (2) and four (4) on the seed list, making them No. 1 seeds instead of Baylor and UCLA (in today’s bracket).  Those are not wrong conclusions.  Of course, metrics do not necessarily do an effective job of including actual results.  Example: UCLA won at Kentucky.  An individual result is only one factor (usually a small one) in a team’s overall resume.  But the disparity in numbers (11.16 to 3.16) suggests a notable difference between UK and UCLA.  How the Committee might discuss those two teams given the result vs. numbers would be interesting.

The more relevant takeaway here is that Villanova is No. 1 by a significant margin.  When you factor in the math, the difference between Villanova and Kentucky is a little larger than it looks.  Thus, the Wildcats remain entrenched as the overall No. 1 seed today by almost any measure, resume and otherwise.

In keeping with our theme, we used a similar process, including a metric called Strength of Record (SOR) to help decipher an uninspiring collection of bubble teams.  With that in mind, Kansas State and Wake Forest are the final two at-large entries.  It’s completely erratic near the bottom of the bracket, so this is far from definitive.  History suggests that may not change much.

UPDATED: January 19, 2017

Regarding bracketing principles, can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Rhode Island vs. Kansas State | Midwest Region
  • Georgia vs. Wake Forest East Region
  • NEW ORLEANS vs. WEBER STATE | Midwest Region
  • MT. ST. MARY’S vs. MORGAN STATE | East Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EAST New York                     MIDWEST – Kansas City
Buffalo Tulsa
1) VILLANOVA 1) KANSAS
16) M.S. MARY’S / MORGAN ST 16) NEW ORLEANS / WEBER ST
8) Northwestern 8) Michigan State
9) MID TENNESSEE ST 9) Clemson
Buffalo Sacramento
5) Florida 5) CINCINNATI
12) VERMONT 12) Kansas St / Rhode Island
4) Virginia 4) OREGON
13) RICHMOND 13) NEW MEXICO ST
Milwaukee Greenville
6) MARYLAND 6) South Carolina
11) Georgia / Wake Forest 11) NC-WILMINGTON
3) Butler 3) North Carolina
14) FLA GULF COAST 14) WINTHROP
Orlando Salt Lake City
7) Indiana 7) Saint Mary’s
10) Seton Hall 10) TCU
2) FLORIDA STATE 2) Creighton
15) GA-SOUTHERN 15) BUCKNELL
WEST – San Jose SOUTH – Memphis
Sacramento Tulsa
1) UCLA 1) Baylor
16) TEXAS-SOUTHERN 16) UC-IRVINE
8) Dayton 8) USC
9) Virginia Tech 9) Arkansas
Orlando Salt Lake City
5) Purdue 5) Duke
12) AKRON 12) NEVADA
4) West Virginia 4) ARIZONA
13) CHATTANOOGA 13) VALPARAISO
Milwaukee Indianapolis
6) Wisconsin 6) Minnesota
11) California 11) ILLINOIS STATE
3) Notre Dame 3) Louisville
14) MONMOUTH 14) BELMONT
Salt Lake City Indianapolis
7) SMU 7) Xavier
10) Texas Tech 10) Iowa State
2) GONZAGA 2) KENTUCKY
15) NORTH DAKOTA ST 15) PRINCETON

NOTES on the BRACKET: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kansas, Baylor, and UCLA

Last Four Byes (at large): Iowa State, Texas Tech, TCU, California

Last Four IN (at large): Georgia, Kansas State, Wake Forest, Rhode Island

First Four OUT (at large): VCU, Miami-FL, Pittsburgh, Michigan

Next four teams OUT (at large): Marquette, Wichita State, Illinois, Penn State

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): FLORIDA STATE, North Carolina, Louisville, Notre Dame, Virginia, Duke, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

Big 10 (7): MARYLAND, Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern

Big 12 (7): KANSAS, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Texas Tech, TCU, Kansas State

Big East (5): VILLANOVA, Creighton, Butler, Xavier, Seton Hall

SEC (5): KENTUCKY, Florida, South Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia

Pac 12 (5): ARIZONA, UCLA, Oregon, USC, California

Atlantic 10 (3): RICHMOND, Dayton, Rhode Island

American (2): CINCINNATI, SMU

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (1): ILLINOIS STATE

Mountain West (1): BOISE STATE

ONE BID LEAGUES: Monmouth (MAAC), Middle Tennessee State (C-USA), Georgia-Southern (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), Weber State (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), New Orleans (SLND), Chattanooga (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), Winthrop (BSO), Morgan State (MEAC), North Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), MT. ST. MARY’S (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)

VIDEO: Tom Crean chokes up talking about O.G. Anunoby, Indiana win

HONOLULU, HI - NOVEMBER 11: Head coach Tom Crean of the Indiana Hoosiers paces the sideline during the first half of the second game of the Armed Forces Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center on November 11, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
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Indiana went through the gauntlet of emotions on Wednesday night.

First, one of their most important players, O.G. Anunoby, went down with what appears to be a serious knee injury midway through the first half. Then, the Hoosiers blow a big lead at Penn State. Finally, James Blackmon Jr. bailed them out with a game-winning, buzzer-beating three.

After the game, head coach Tom Crean got choked up talking about the victory:

RELATED: What’s wrong with Indiana?

“As the leader of these guys I’m excited about the way they played considering everything we went through in this game,” Crean said. “There were a lot of tears in that locker room because no one knew what was going on with one of their fallen brothers. And I had to leave a guy who was crying and that wasn’t easy. But we found a way to win the game so I’m proud of them for that.”

Crean gets a lot of heat from fans – both of Indiana and of Indiana’s rivals – but that was a genuine moment of anguish. It’s easy to forget that he’s a human being dealing with more job-related stress than you can imagine. He’s paid handsomely for it, but that doesn’t make always make it easier.