Film Study: What’s behind Jabari Parker’s recent slump

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What in the world has happened to Jabari Parker?

Three weeks ago, he was being hailed as the best offensive weapon in the history of college basketball. Ok, that may be overstating it just a bit, but there really wasn’t much that Parker wasn’t doing on the offensive end of the floor. Put a smaller defender on him and he would abuse them in the post. Put a bigger defender on him and he’d show off his highly-developed perimeter repertoire. He finished alley-oops a possession after grabbing a defensive rebound and going coast-to-coast for a dunk.

He was special, and Duke looked like a legitimate title contender.

But Jabari hasn’t been the same player since the calendar turn, and that no doubt plays a major role in why Duke has suddenly looked like a borderline top 25 team.

Check out these numbers:

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It’s pretty clear that his numbers have gone way down.

But why?

The obvious answer is the ‘Freshman Wall’, and there is certainly some merit to that. There is plenty of film to study on Parker at this point in the season, which means that coaches in the ACC are going to know what he’s done well and what he’s struggled with. Opponents will be game-planning around slowing him down. This is the first time in his career that he’s been scouted this thoroughly and he’s going to have to learn to adjust to what defenses are taking away. When you are as good as Parker is on the offensive end of the floor, defenses are going to be designed to slow you down. That’s just how it works.

And it’s also fair to assume that, eventually, Parker was going to regress to the mean. He shot lights-out for the first month of the season, especially from beyond the arc. No one can possibly keep up that rate, and while Parker was always a threat from the perimeter, he was never really known as an elite three-point marksman.

There’s more to it than that, however. I went through Synergy and watched about three hours worth of film on Parker and this is what I came away with:

1) Parker is settling for jumpers

The guy that was the nation’s most versatile offensive weapon has become a one-trick pony in recent games. He’s not posting up as often anymore. The majority of the looks that he is getting are coming off of spot-up jumpers and isolations where Parker settles for contested, step-back jumpers. To get an idea of his aggressiveness, Parker shot 43 threes and 70 free throws in the first 12 games. In the last five, he’s shot 21 threes and just 14 free throws.

There are two reasons for this:

  • Opponents are defending him with bigger, more athletic opponents. Virginia used Akil Mitchell on him. Notre Dame used Zach Auguste and Austin Burgett. Georgia Tech put Kammeon Holsey on him. His best game in ACC play came when he was guarded by 6-foot-7, 215 lb freshman Jaron Blossomgame at Clemson. As a result, when Parker does get his post touches, they come farther away from the rim and he has a tendency to simply face-up and shoot over the defender. On the perimeter, since he’s not getting all the way to the rim as easily as before, they are able to challenge those perimeter jumpers more easily thanks to their size and length.
  • For a guy that is as talented and well-rounded offensively as Parker is, Duke certainly doesn’t run a lot of sets for him. When they do, he’s not running off of down screens or getting a chance to curl to the rim, he’s getting set up for a chance to square his man up and go one-on-one. I did a breakdown here of how Creighton uses Doug McDermott off the ball, running him off screen after screen after screen in the half court. Far too often, Parker simply spends a possession standing in the corner. Granted, Duke has more weapons offensively that Creighton does, but it’s still striking how often he’s essentially a decoy used to pull a big man away from the rim.

2) Is Parker out of shape?

Parker’s legs look like they’re dead. He’s not getting as much lift on his jumpshot as he was early in the season. When players are feeling good, they miss long. When they’re tired, they miss short because their shot is flat, or to the right or left, losing some accuracy as they try to get a little bit of extra ‘oomph’ on their jumper. This problem gets magnified by the fact that Parker is becoming so much more reliant on that jumper.

Parker was never going to be confused with Patric Young in terms of his physique, but early on in the season, he looked svelte, like he had lost a few pounds since his high school days. I saw the Blue Devils in person five times in the first month of the season, so maybe it’s TV playing tricks on me, but it looks like he’s added a bit of weight as well. A heavier frame certainly won’t help dead legs.

3) Is his defense affecting his offense?

Watching film on Duke, it was striking seeing just how poor of a defender Parker is. Part of it is that he’s being forced to play out of position. Often times, he’s guarding an opponent’s best interior player, and that can take a lot out of a player’s legs. But there’s more to it than that. He loses track of his man defensively. He’s late rotating from helpside. He routinely forgets to box his man out.

That’s part of the reason that Parker was benched for the final 3:35 in the loss against Notre Dame, which makes you wonder how much of this recent slump is simply Parker losing some of his confidence on the offensive end of the floor.

Whatever the case may be, the bottom line is that Jabari Parker is not playing well right now.

Duke will not be a legitimate threat to win anything until he is.

4-star center commits to Purdue

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With Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas entering their senior seasons, adding front court options in the 2018 class was something that Purdue needed to do. Purdue added its second front court commitment in the 2018 class Tuesday evening, as four-star center Emmanuel Dowuona reportedly made his pledge. News of Dowuona’s commitment was first reported by the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

Dowuona, a 6-foot-11 big man who attends Westwood Christian School in Miami, joins fellow four-star prospect Trevion Williams in Purdue’s 2018 class to date.

Dowuona’s commitment comes just days before he was reportedly to visit Tennessee. Among the other programs to have offered Duwuona were Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami and UConn.

Dowuona played for the Team Breakdown program on the Under Armour Association circuit during the summer, averaging 7.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 59.3 percent from the field. While still a bit raw offensively, the native of Ghana provides value as a defender and rebounder. Dowuona is joining a program that during Painter’s tenure as head coach has done a good job of developing big men.

Dowuona and the aforementioned Williams will look to compete for playing time in 2018-19 alongside current redshirt junior Jacquil Taylor and 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman center Matt Haarms.

Dayton freshman Toppin ineligible for 2017-18 season

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Dayton announced Tuesday afternoon that one of the program’s incoming freshmen will not be eligible to compete this season. 6-foot-8 forward Obadiah Toppin has been ruled by the NCAA to have not met initial eligibility requirements, and he will have to sit out the 2017-18 season as a result.

Toppin will be allowed to remain a member of the team and participate in practices, and he will have four seasons of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2018-19 season. While the NCAA’s decision leaves the Flyers short a front court option in head coach Anthony Grant’s first season at the helm, it did not come as a surprise.

“We knew this was a possible scenario for Obi early on in the recruiting process,” Grant said in the release. “And if it came to pass, we saw this as a chance for him to utilize this year acclimate as a student and enhance his strength and skill as an academic redshirt. This is a great opportunity for Obi to develop as a player and student over the next 12 months, and prepare himself for a very successful college career.”

Toppin, who averaged 17 points and eight rebounds per game at Mt. Zion Academy last season, is one of five freshmen who have joined the program. Matej Svoboda and Jordan Pierce will look to earn minutes alongside returnees Josh Cunningham and Xeyrius Williams, and the same can be said for redshirt freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Toppin being declared ineligible is the third hit Dayton has taken to its front court this offseason. Ryan Mikesell, who played in 32 games last season, will redshirt after undergoing two hip surgeries. And Sam Miller, who was also part of the team’s front court rotation last season, was suspended from school for the fall semester after he was arrested during the summer.

Four-star forward commits to Ohio State

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Ohio State is on the board with regards to the 2018 recruiting class, as Chris Holtmann’s program received a much-needed verbal commitment from four-star forward Jaedon LeDee. The 6-foot-9 Houston native announced his decision via his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon.

In receiving a verbal commitment from LeDee, Ohio State beat out California, Houston, Iowa State, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and UCLA. The Buckeyes hosted LeDee for his official visit the weekend of September 9, which coincided with the football team’s matchup with Oklahoma. Originally scheduled to visit Cal this past weekend, LeDee instead visited Texas A&M.

With LeDee’s commitment to Ohio State, visits to LSU (September 30) and UCLA (October 6) are likely off the board.

Currently attending the Kincaid School, LeDee played for the Texas PRO grassroots program on the adidas Uprising circuit this summer. The four-star prospect will likely be a combo forward for Ohio State, playing either the three or the four depending on the matchup.

With Jae’Sean Tate beginning his senior season and Keita Bates-Diop being a redshirt junior, Ohio State had a need to address in the front court. In landing a verbal pledge from Jaedon LeDee, the Buckeyes have done just that.

Among the front court players who will have eligibility remaining beyond the 2017-18 season are Bates-Diop, current sophomores Micah Potter and Andre Wesson, and freshmen Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young.

The Pac-12 is foolish for scheduling Arizona-UCLA once during the regular season

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Last month, I wrote about one of the more troubling trends in college basketball: Teams steering away from playing the games that fans are going to care about the most.

It was the result of Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing stating publicly that he was “not thinking about Maryland” after the rivalry between the DMV’s two most well-known programs went by the wayside.

Ewing isn’t the only coach that is culpable here. Kansas and Missouri don’t play. Kansas and Wichita State don’t play, either. Duke and Maryland don’t play. Ohio State doesn’t play Cincinnati, Xavier or Dayton. It goes on and on.

But the blame can no longer only be given to the coaches that schedule to protect themselves and/or their program.

The conferences deserve some criticism as well. Take, for instance, the Pac-12, who released their schedule recently after deciding that Arizona, a contender for the preseason No. 1 team in the country, should only play UCLA and USC, the only two teams that have a realistic chance of upending the Wildcats for the Pac-12 crown, once apiece.

Not only that, but the games will be played in Tucson, an incredible advantage for Sean Miller’s club as they pursue the league’s regular season title.

Look, I get it. There are 12 teams in the league and there is an 18-game schedule. Each team in the league is going to play four of their 11 league foes just once. It’s simple math. But the answer should never, ever be to schedule the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once.

The reasoning is simple: Arizona and UCLA are the two biggest brands in the league. When they play it will draw more interest than when any other two teams in the conference play, and that’s something the conference should be trying to capitalize on. It takes a lot to convince anyone on the east coast to stay up to watch a Pac-12 basketball game. I cover this sport for a living and I have a hard time making it all the way through a 10 p.m. ET tip. When a two-year old is going to be screaming at me to make breakfast at 6:30 a.m., do I really want to stay up to watch Arizona blow out Washington or UCLA to beat up on Cal?

The Pac-12 should do everything they can to ensure that Arizona and UCLA play twice every season.

That is even more true this year. Arizona might be the best team in the country and they might have the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on their roster in Deandre Ayton. UCLA is a top 15 team that just so happens to have Liangelo Ball, the worst of the three Ball brothers and potentially the last one to matriculate through the college ranks. The seemingly inevitable LaVar Ball blow-up is something we all will be watching patiently to see.

Should I mention the simmering hatred between Sean Miller and Steve Alford as they continually compete for the best prospects on the west coast?

And that’s before you factor in that USC is the second-best team in the league, and anyone that UCLA plays twice, USC will also play twice.

I’ll be sure to watch a number of Oregon games this season, and I think that Stanford, Oregon State and Colorado all have the pieces to sneak up on some people this year. I’ll be sure to check in on them a couple times as well.

But the games that I’ll have circled on my calendar, the games I’ll be excited about watching, are between Arizona, UCLA and USC.

By scheduling the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once during the regular season, the Pac-12 cost themselves a third of that inventory.

That doesn’t seems like the smartest way to run a business conference.

But hey, if conference realignment and the development of conference-only networks taught us anything, it’s that major college athletics are all about competitive balance over those advertising dollars.

Vanderbilt lands commitment from Aaron Nesmith

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Vanderbilt landed their first commitment in the Class of 2018 with four-star wing Aaron Nesmith.

Nesmith is a native of South Carolina, and the Commodores beat out South Carolina for his services. At 6-foot-6, Nesmith is the kind of defensive presence and athlete that Vandy will need to replace Jeff Roberson, who will be graduating this season.

This is a critical class for Bryce Drew, who is squarely in the mix for five-star guards Darius Garland and Romeo Langford. Nesmith isn’t on that level, but he will be a nice piece for Vandy for four years.