Film Study: Andrew Wiggins vs. Aaron Gordon and the power of hype

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We’ve all heard of blind resumes, right?

They pop up around NCAA tournament time and are a pretty effective way of evaluating who has had a better season while eliminating the bias that comes with the name associated with the teams involved.

We’re going to take a look at some blind stat-lines today:

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Player A is the leading scorer and third-leading rebounder on a power conference team that is the overwhelming favorite to win their league. Player B is the second-leading scorer and the leading rebounder for another power conference team that is the overwhelming favorite to win their league. Both teams are in line to earn themselves No. 1 seeds come Selection Sunday. Both players are noted for their ability on the defensive end of the floor, but neither of them are considered the best player on their team as of today.

Have you figured it out yet?

Player A is Andrew Wiggins.

Player B is Aaron Gordon.

Once you factor in that Gordon spends more time playing the four than Wiggins and Wiggins plays in a more uptempo offense than Gordon, I think I can safely say that the impact that Wiggins and Gordon have had on their team has been quite comparable.

In other words, these guys are both having really good years.

So why is Wiggins constantly critiqued, criticized for finding and embracing a role on his team, while Gordon is celebrated for it?

It’s simple, really: hype and expectations.

Gordon has met every expectation that was set forth for him, and frankly, he’s probably benefitted from the presence of Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and now Joel Embiid more than anyone. He wasn’t part of the Big Three entering the season. He didn’t play in the Champions Classic. He was the answer to every ‘Name Another Good Freshman’ question I got during the preseason, which is perfect for him. At this point in his career, Gordon is more of an athlete that plays basketball than a basketball player that’s athletic. His skill set will develop with time, but right now his ability allows him to play a role similar to that of Kawhi Leonard on the Spurs. Defend, rebound, hustle. He’s excelling.

With Wiggins, we heard all the scouts salivating over his potential and mention names like Kevin Durant and LeBron James and immediately expected him to be the dominant force in college basketball. I fell victim to it as well, but the issue — the one that we ignored while tossing around unfair comparisons throughout the preseason — was that Wiggins is so much more like Gordon than he is like Parker and Randle.

Parker and Randle are polished, skilled and physically mature offensive weapons that could have a major impact in the NBA right now. Wiggins? Well, he’s got a long way to go to get there, but there are times that he makes plays that just leave you scratching your head in bewilderment at what he just did. His athleticism is off the charts and there’s a fluidity to his movement that makes some of his most ridiculous plays look almost nonchalant. 

You don’t need to be an NBA scout to see his potential. All you need is two eyeballs. But after seeing Wiggins get dragged through the mud after back-to-back unimpressive performances over the long weekend, I was curious: Why can’t he consistently dominate at this level? 

So I went back and watched every second that Wiggins was on the floor of every Big 12 game he has played, and this is what I came away with:

source: Getty Images1. He can’t penetrate against a set defense: Wiggins is just unstoppable in transition. His strides are so long that when you let him get a full head of steam going towards the rim, you just don’t have a chance. His height and jumping ability allow him to finish over anyone. There was one play in the first half against Iowa State that Wiggins caught the ball at half court and needed just two dribbles to lay the ball in. It’s incredible. 

But in the half court, Wiggins really struggles beating his man off the dribble. In half court sets, he’s basically turned into a spot-up shooter, which is where 24.3% of his possessions are used. According to Synergy, 58.5% of Wiggins’ shots are jump-shots. By comparison, 21.9% of Aaron Gordon’s shots were jump shots. Last season, 66.5% of Ben McLemore’s shots were jumpers.

Part of this is that defenses are conscious of his ability, meaning helpside rotations get there a step quicker than when, say, Naadir Tharpe decides to try to put the ball on the floor. But it’s still alarming how uncommon it is to see someone as explosive as Wiggins square a defender up, beat him to the rim and score. There are three things at play here:

  • It doesn’t seem like Wiggins has all that powerful of a first step. The long strides that allow him to roast defenders in transition get choppy in the half court.
  • Wiggins is not a great ball-handler, and he seems to be aware of this. Everything time he penetrates it’s a straight-line drive at the rim, and he has an awkward habit of picking the ball up after one dribble. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t really have a feel for being able to drive-and-kick when help defenders show up. 
  • Wiggins lacks upper body strength, which brings me to my next point …

2. Wiggins needs to get in the weight room: One of the major criticisms I’ve read of Wiggins is that he’s soft. I don’t necessarily think that’s the right way to term it. He’s weak. His upper body is slender. He gets knocked off balance too often. When he gets a defender on his hip, he can’t get all the way by him. When he’s going to the rim, he can’t use his front shoulder to absorb contact; he just bounces off. 

This is part of the reason that he’s not finishing above the rim. For a guy as athletic as Wiggins is, we almost never see him on Sportscenter Top Ten. He hasn’t posterized anyone yet this season. He’s all about the floaters and the finger-rolls. His is a finesse game around the basket, not a power game.

3. He’s a streaky jump-shooter: Wiggins has a pretty nice release. When he sees one jumper go down, he can reel off three or four in a row. But when they aren’t going in, he’s got a tendency of to throw up some bricks. When he’s on balance and he’s got his legs underneath, Wiggins isn’t a bad rhythm shooter. He just seems to rush some of the looks that he gets.

4. He coasts: It’s not just offensively, either. Wiggins is an excellent rebounder. He’s got the length and the athleticism, and he seems to have a feel for where a rebound is going to come off, but he’s not always crashing the glass. He’s got the tools to be a terrific defender — in fact, I was pleasantly surprised at just how effective he has been chasing people around screens — but he can also be slow on a close-out or get beat off the dribble. The reason that he was benched in the second half against Oklahoma State wasn’t simply because he was struggling offensively, it was because Markel Brown was lighting him up on the other end of the floor.

5. Confidence: This is my biggest takeaway. I just don’t think that Wiggins believes that he’s as good as he is. I think that he’s cognizant of what his limitations are as a basketball player, and more than anything, this is what prevents him from taking over games. He’s not aggressive in the biggest moments of the biggest games. 

Wiggins isn’t the superstar that we all expected him to be this season. He’s got a long way to go to fulfill the expectations he had coming out of high school, and he’s got plenty of time to get there. 

None of that changes the fact that he’s been a very good player for Kansas this season.

So while we can lament that the ‘Next Big Thing’ won’t live up to his potential as a collegian, we should at least recognize that fact.

College Basketball AP Poll: Virginia, Michigan State, Villanova top the Top 25

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1. Virginia (42 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (19)
3. Villanova (4)
4. Xavier
5. Duke
t-6. Texas Tech
t-6. Gonzaga
8. Kansas
9. Purdue
10. North Carolina
11. Cincinnati
12. Auburn
13. Wichita State
14. Arizona
15. Clemson
16. Ohio State
17. Michigan
18. Rhode Island
19. Tennessee
20. Nevada
21. West Virginia
22. Saint Mary’s
23. Houston
24. Middle Tennessee
25. Florida State

VIDEO: Wichita State celebrates in locker room after win over Cincinnati

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Wichita State went into Cincinnati — well, Northern Kentucky — on Sunday evening and landed their biggest win of the season.

They were fired up about it, as you might imagine.

And their locker room celebrating after the win was, as the kids say, litty:

Here’s the funny part to me: This game wasn’t played at Cincinnati. It wasn’t played at Wichita State. It was played at Northern Kentucky, where the Bearcats are playing their home games while they wait for the renovations on their arena to be completed.

Which means that some poor NKU employee that had nothing to do with either of these two programs had to spend the time cleaning up this mess.

CBT Podcast: Monday Overreactions: Villanova-Xavier, the Big 12 is drunk, the best in the Big Ten is … ?

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Rob Dauster was joined by Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic on today’s show to overreact to everything that happened this weekend, from Villanova pasting Xavier to the insanity that is the Big 12 to what happened in the Big Ten in the last ten days. We also spend a good 30 minutes talking about bubble teams, tournament resumes and some misconceptions with both. The rundown.

OPEN: Bubble Banter. We talk about weird bubble teams and whether or not we like the new Quadrant system.

36:08: Villanova’s win over Xavier and the Big East title race.

45:15: The Big 12 makes no sense and I love it.

58:30: Michigan State deserves the Big Ten title.

Team Of The Week: Houston Cougars

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The Cougars have now won five straight games, but it was the two games they won this week that set the tone for what the rest of their season can be.

On Thursday night, Cincinnati came to down and Houston dropped them, 67-62, despite digging a double-digit hole in the first half. They followed that up by going into North Philadelphia and poleaxing Temple. They were up 34-11 midway through the first half. They won by 21 points. It was never a question.

And as a result, Houston’s bid to the NCAA tournament is no longer a question so long as they avoid losing to Memphis, East Carolina and UConn. And if they truly are an NCAA tournament team, they’ll get that done.

But perhaps the best piece of news is that the Cougars did all this while Rob Gray did not play well. He’s one of the best players in that conference, and the fact that they were able to right Devin Davis and Corey Davis to wins in two of their most important and toughest games of the league slate is significant.

What happens when Rob Gray gets right?

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • WICHITA STATE: Not only did Wichita State land a come-from-behind win over Temple on Thursday night, one where they trailed by 14 points at halftime, but they followed that up by going to Cincinnati and knocking off the then-No. 5 Bearcats.
  • MICHIGAN STATE: The Spartans moved into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten due in large part to the fact that they were able to erase a 27-point first half deficit at Northwestern.
  • BAYLOR: The Bears look like they are now heading for the NCAA tournament after landing wins at Texas and at home over Texas Tech on Saturday. Now that Scott Drew’s team is healthy, they look like they belong in the top 25.
  • ST. BONAVENTURE: The Bonnies might have solidified their bid for the NCAA tournament. As long as they don’t do anything dumb the rest of the season, beating Rhode Island at home on Friday night should be enough for them to get in.
  • DUKE: The Blue Devils have now won three straight games after losing Marvin Bagley III to a minor knee sprain, mainly because their defense is now playing at a level that we haven’t seen yet this season. Are the Blue Devils better without Marvin Bagley??? (Hint: No.)

Player Of The Week: Terry Maston, Baylor

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Terry Maston is back from injury and playing the best basketball of his career.

The 6-foot-8 senior was utterly dominant in two critical, close wins this week. It started with 26 points and six boards in a double-overtime win at Texas on Monday night that was something of a play-out game for NCAA tournament purposes.

Then on Saturday, that win was overshadowed. Maston had 24 points and five boards in regular as the Bears knocked off No. 7 Texas Tech for their fifth straight win, and suddenly it looks like Scott Drew’s club will be in the NCAA tournament come Selection Sunday.

All told, in what will arguably be the most important week of the season for Baylor, Maston scored 50 points, or a total of 38 percent of Baylor’s total scoring output in those two games.

Not bad for a guy that came off the bench in both of those wins.

THE ALL-‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • GRAYSON ALLEN, Duke: In three games without Marvin Bagley III, Duke is now 3-0 thanks to Grayson Allen averaging 22.3 points and 5.3 assists while shooting 42 percent from three. Last week, Duke beating Virginia Tech by 22 points and won at Clemson.
  • CALEB and CODY MARTIN, Nevada: The Wolf Pack picked up two road wins this week, including a win at Boise State that gave them the inside track at the Mountain West regular season title. The twins combined to average 42.5 points, 12.5 boards and 4.0 assists in those two wins.
  • AARON HOLIDAY, UCLA: The Bruins stayed on track to earn a berth into the NCAA tournament with wins over Oregon and Oregon State. Holiday was the star both nights, going for 17 and 10 assists against OSU and following that up with 29 points, six assists and five boards in an overtime win over Oregon.
  • MATT MOBLEY, St. Bonaventure: Mobley averaged 28 points and nine boards as the Bonnies beat La Salle and No. 16 Rhode Island to put themselves in a spot where they can realistically feel good about their chances of getting into the NCAA tournament.
  • DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona: Ayton had one of his best games of the season on Thursday night, going for 25 points, 16 boards, four assists and three blocks as the Wildcats picked off Arizona State on the road.