Film Study: Marcus Smart’s shooting struggles, a failure in leadership?

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Over the last two weeks, the No. 1 talking point when it comes to Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart is his penchant for flopping.

And it’s justified. Smart has made a habit out of, ahem, over-emphasizing contact and wayward elbows. It’s not new — he did this last season as well — but it came to a head on Monday night when the all-american somehow managed to pull off the never-before-seen double-flop.

It’s spectacularly hilarious, the kind of play that will get talked about on shows like Around The Horn and Pardon The Interruption while making the rounds on the blogosphere. Smart was asked about his acting skills, admitting to Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com that he knows he “probably built up a little reputation” but that “I’m not the only one flopping”.

The irony is that the flopping really doesn’t matter at all.

It’s Smart trying to earn a call from the refs, and it’s quite often successful.

But it’s not the biggest issue in his game in recent weeks. Those flops aren’t the reason that Oklahoma State has lost three in a row or four of their last five games. It’s not the reason that Smart has played some of the worst basketball of his collegiate career during that stretch.

I went back and watched tape of all of Smart’s possessions during Big 12 play and the three-game stretch earlier this year where he shot to the top of everyone’s all-american lists to try to figure out just what is going on with him, and this is what I found:

1. Smart isn’t a bad shooter, he’s a bad decision-maker: One of the reasons that Smart made the decision to return to school this summer was that he wanted to improve his jump shot. Talk to anyone around the kid and they’ll tell you that he’s a worker, a guy that will put in the hours in the gym. But that doesn’t make sense given that Smart’s three-point shooting percentage has dropped this season, from 29.0% as a freshman to 28.2% as a sophomore. The fact that he’s made just four of his last 33 threes certainly hasn’t helped that percentage.

Prior to this recent cold stretch, Smart was shooting 34.5% from three. That’s respectable, especially when you consider the following:

The issue isn’t necessarily Smart’s shooting ability. He hits his free throws, he goes on stretches where he can knock down three or four threes in a row and his form actually looks pretty good most of the time. I don’t think anyone would complain about a 34.5% three-point shooter taking a wide-open, rhythm three after a post-touch leads to a ball-reversal.

Smart’s problem is that those aren’t the threes he’s shooting. Quite frankly, he takes too many terrible shots.

Smart loves ‘heat checks’. When he does make a three, you’ll make a lot of money if you find a way to bet on him taking another three on the next possession. He’s also unafraid to fire away with a hand in his face, regardless of how much time is left on the shot clock, and has a habit of shooting fade-aways and tough pull-ups even if they are from 22 feet.

Here’s a great example. Smart has a mismatch with a bigger defender guarding him, but instead of putting the ball on the floor and going by him, he … takes a step-back three?:

2. Is Smart aware of his strengths and weaknesses as a player?: Smart is as good as anyone at getting into the lane, possessing the strength to finish through contact around the rim. Why, then, does he take 5.3 threes per game? Why are 53.5% of his shot attempts jump shots?

Smart is a terrific defender that can dominate that end of the floor. He’s got some of the best instincts I’ve ever seen. He’s one of the best passers in the country thanks to excellent vision and a knack for finding a lane to make tough passes in crowded spaces. He’s got a high turnover rate, but those have more to do with bad ball-handling than they do bad passes and he’s actually improved in that area of his game this year. He’s at his best when he’s post up or attacking the rim off the dribble, either finishing for himself or finding open teammates when the help comes.

So why does he insist on trying to be Jabari Parker? Why does he routinely get suckered in when defenses dare him to shoot? Why won’t he go to the basket every chance he gets?

Here’s the best example of what I’m talking about. It’s a play you all should remember:

What is that shot? Three possessions early, he gave Oklahoma State a two-point lead by crushing DeAndre Kane with a drop-step on the opposite block. What does he take an awkward, off-balance fadeaway here?

3. Smart’s not just flopping, he’s searching for contact: One thing I noticed in the last couple of weeks, is that Smart no longer seems to be attacking the basket to try and score, particularly in transition. He appears to be more concerned with trying to draw a foul than he does with trying to get a bucket. Smart is at his best when he’s using his strength and body control to score around the rim. He doesn’t need to resort to trying to get bailed out; he’ll get the call when he goes up strong.

4. Composure: Smart has had some emotional outbursts in recent weeks, most notably in the game against West Virginia when he curb-stomped a chair on OSU’s bench and, in the second half, stormed away from the court and into a back hallway. You never want to see a player lose their composure like that.

And, if you read a bit into some of what he told Goodman today, I don’t think it’s difficult to infer that Smart’s been frustrated by some of the officiating of late.

“It’s so inconsistent,” Smart said about the new rules. “We have no idea what to expect. And as a player, it messes with your mind. It’s incredible how inconsistent the new rules have been. If they call it on one end, they have to call it on the other end. I don’t blame it on anyone. It’s a big adjustment for the refs also. They’re learning just like us.”

“I know players are going to go out and take shots at me,” he added. “Starting this game, I’m putting it in the back of my mind. If that’s how it’s going to be played, that’s how it’s going to be played. If they can do it to me, I can do it also. That’s my mindset from here on out. Physically, there’s going to be nothing easy.”

Smart is as competitive as anyone, but this losing seems to be frustrating him.

He’s supposed to be this group’s leader. Forced shots, demonstrative reactions to calls he doesn’t like, and playing outside of his strengths is not leadership.

If Smart can’t right this ship, Oklahoma State’s season will not turn around.

Northern Colorado basketball placed on probation by NCAA

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA placed the University of Northern Colorado men’s basketball program on three years’ probation among other sanctions Friday after finding academic fraud and recruiting violations by ex-coach B.J. Hill and some of his assistants.

The violations by Hill and eight members of his staff over a four-year span included completing coursework for prospects, paying for classes prospects needed to become academically eligible and arranging off-campus practice sessions with an academically ineligible student-athlete.

In addition to probation, penalties in the case include a one-year postseason ban (already served) for the men’s basketball team; a financial penalty; scholarship and recruiting restrictions; and a vacation of records.

Seven coaches received “show cause” orders, including a six-year penalty for the head coach, five years for two assistant coaches, four years for another assistant coach and three years for two assistant coaches and the graduate assistant. During the show cause periods, if an NCAA school hires the coach, that school must demonstrate why restrictions on the coach’s athletically related duties should not apply.

The NCAA concurred with the university’s self-imposed one-year postseason ban last season, a reduction of three scholarships and recruiting restrictions. Also, the school must return all proceeds from its 2011 NCAA Tournament appearance.

The rules violations spanned four years under Hill, a first-time head coach who personally completed coursework for a prospect and enlisted an athletic director to do the same, the NCAA found.

The NCAA said Hill recruited ineligible players, then broke rules to get them on the court.

Hill was fired last year when the NCAA began looking into the violations. He had gone 86-98 with two postseason appearances in six seasons after taking over the program in 2010 following a stint as an assistant in Greeley to current Colorado coach Tad Boyle.

The NCAA commended the university for its “exemplary cooperation” in the case and said Hill “admitted that he failed in his responsibilities to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor his staff.”

The panel said two assistant coaches violated ethical conduct rules for lying to investigators and a third failed to cooperate with the probe.

VIDEO: Presbyterian’s Toss for Tots night earns technical foul for charity

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Presbyterian College held an cool and unique fundraiser this week.

In a game against Toccoa Falls, the Blue Hose held what will now be an annual Toss for Tots event. It was simple: after the first basket of their game on Thursday night, fans in attendance were asked to throw a stuffed animal onto the court, with every stuffed animal earmarked for a local elementary school.

Presbyterian ate the technical foul for the cause:

In total, 108 stuffed animals were “donated”.

The program had partnered with Bailey Elementary School, where there are 103 students. On Friday, the team delivered every student at the school one of the stuffed animals for Christmas. Head coach Dustin Kerns told NBC Sports that the team spent some times with the kids today as well, reading to the team and putting a smile on their face.

“Proud of our team,” Kerns, who is in his first year with the program, said. The win against Toccoa Falls was the fifth in a row for the Blue Hose, the first time the program has accomplished that since going to the Division I level. They are not 6-5 on the season after winning five games a year ago. “It was fun seeing out program give back.”

Presbyterian Sports Information Dept
Presbyterian Sports Information Dept

Rape charges will not be filed after last year’s incident in Kansas basketball dorm

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The Douglas County District Attorney’s office will not file sexual assault charges stemming from a report that a 16-year old girl was raped nearly a year ago in the Kansas basketball dorm.

“After an exhaustive review of all available reports, evidence and testimony, our office has determined there is not sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt a sexual assault occurred,” District Attorney Charles Branson told the Lawrence Journal-World. “Unless additional evidence or reports come to light there is insufficient evidence to prove a crime was committed.”

What’s more, a suspect in the investigation was never actually identified, the paper reported. All five witnesses in the rape report were members of the men’s basketball team. The incident allegedly occurred in McCarthy Hall, which is a dorm where 40 Kansas students live, including all members of the men’s basketball team.

No. 8 Kentucky maturing, more challenges ahead for freshmen

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari hasn’t hidden his frustration about the learning curve of his latest group of talented freshmen.

And while the No. 8 Wildcats are starting play better, they’re bracing for more challenges ahead.

Kentucky has struggled to put away opponents such as Utah Valley, Vermont, Troy and Harvard, efforts that players and Calipari acknowledge have contributed to a perceived lack of national respect. On the other hand, their lone loss — a 65-61 setback to Kansas — showed their ability to compete with college basketball’s heavyweights.

“It was one of the big games they got to see,” sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel said. “The feeling and high intensity of the game, people watching, the fight in a big game like that, it really started to hit. Some players really started to get rolling off of that.

“We’re starting to get better as a team, individuals are getting better and we’re trending upward and trying to stay on that path.”

Kentucky (8-1) has begun running away from opponents, a promising trend it hopes to continue against upcoming Power Five conference foes.

Saturday’s home game against Virginia Tech (9-1) opens a daunting year-ending stretch for the Wildcats that includes next weekend’s matchup against UCLA in New Orleans; their annual in-state rivalry showdown against Louisville on Dec. 29; and their Southeastern Conference opener against Georgia on New Year’s Eve.

Though Calipari still hopes February will reveal Kentucky’s true strengths, he’s eager to see how the Wildcats stack up against the Atlantic Coast Conference Hokies, who lead the nation in scoring at 96.2 points per game and rank second in 3-point shooting at 47 percent.

“They have three or four guys that can absolutely make 3s,” Calipari said Friday while listing other Tech strengths. “They’re looking for layups and kicking it out for 3s and they’re getting to the line because of it.

“They’re not afraid. They go on the road in big games. Their home games are craziness. This is plugged into our schedule at a time where we need to learn about us, and we will.”

After a busy November without much practice time, Kentucky has welcomed a lighter December schedule that has allowed the Wildcats more time for workouts and to build chemistry.

The Wildcats have a long way to go, but games such as last week’s 93-76 win over Monmouth are encouraging for Kentucky fans.

Besides continuing their solid shooting — the Wildcats rank 22nd at nearly 51 percent — redshirt freshman guard Hamidou Diallo (23 points) and forward PJ Washington (20) posted career scoring highs against Monmouth. Kentucky also succeeded with a smaller lineup and has been effective playing a zone defense, which Calipari disdains but has used because of his team’s length.

“They’re as long as anybody in the country,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said of Kentucky. “We’ll have to work really hard to get the same shots we’ve been getting.”

Kentucky remains short-handed with freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt (foot) and guard Jemarl Baker (knee) sidelined by injuries. But the Wildcats appear to be developing depth.

They faced Monmouth without sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones (sprained ankle) before starting guard Quade Green left in the second half after being poked in the eye. Both will be available against the Hokies and return knowing that the bench can fill the void after it combined for a season-high 27 points.

Granted, Monmouth is not a barometer for success against the likes of Tech, UCLA or Louisville. But considering Kentucky’s early struggles, any growth is welcome.

“We think highly of ourselves as a team,” Gabriel added. “I think we deserve more credit than we’re getting, so we’re going to go out there and try to earn it.”

Arizona State rising fast beyond the desert

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State has taken college basketball by devilish hurricane, running and gunning its way into the national consciousness while igniting an often-blase local fan base.

Even the Sun Devils’ rivals down south have taken notice.

“Bobby Hurley, he’s en route right now to be one of the coaches talked about for national coach of the year because of what he’s done with their program,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said of the coach of his biggest rival. “He’s played a tough nonconference schedule. It shows some guts to play who they play. Their results speak really clearly. They might be underrated where they’re at right now.”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, at least not yet.

The Sun Devils were expected to be better in Hurley’s third season in the desert. They returned three senior guards and finally got them some front-court help with the addition of Romello White and De’Quon Lake.

Kodi Justice, ASU’s 6-foot-5 guard, would no longer have to guard 7-footers. Arizona State would be better defensively and on the glass. The guards would not have to carry the entire load.

Even so, the Sun Devils were projected to be at the middle of the Pac-12, picked to finish sixth.

The big jump was supposed to be next season, when a trio of transfers will be eligible and could possibly lead the Sun Devils to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014.

This breakneck band of Devils spun the narrative forward a year early.

Playing with a confidence bordering on cocky and with an offensive freedom afforded them by their coach, the Sun Devils have pushed their way into the national spotlight.

They made a blip by beating Xavier, No. 15 at the time but now No. 10 in the AP Top 25 . Blew the Musketeers away, actually, turning a 15-point first-half deficit into a 102-86 rout with an onslaught of fast breaks and 3-pointers.

Arizona State next moved into the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2008-09, coming in at No. 20 after the win over Xavier. The Sun Devils climbed four spots the next week.

The catapult launched last Sunday: Arizona State 95, No. 2 Kansas 85. At Allen Fieldhouse.

One of the biggest wins in program history led to another bit of history: A No. 5 ranking this week, ASU’s highest since reaching No. 3 in 1980-81. The Sun Devils even garnered the first No. 1 votes as a program. Five of ’em, actually.

Now Arizona State is 9-0 and being mentioned as a possible national-title contender. Yeah, really.

“I knew the success was going to be better, but you don’t expect necessarily when you look at a schedule to run the table up to this point, and beat the type of teams we’ve beaten,” Hurley said. “So you just appreciate it and then you kind of move on and get ready for the next battle.”

Arizona State’s success starts with its quartet of fearless guards, turning Arizona State into “Guard U.”

With carte blanche from Hurley to shoot from anywhere at almost any time, they’ve gone from carrying the load last season to ferrying the Sun Devils closer to college basketball’s upper echelon.

Tra Holder has transformed himself from steady freshman to unquestioned, sometimes nasty senior floor leader. He scored 40 points against Xavier and leads Arizona State with 21.2 points per game. He also grabs 5.6 rebounds, dishes out 5.2 assists and won consecutive Pac-12 player of the week honors, a first by a Sun Devil since James Harden in 2008.

Shannon Evans II followed Hurley from Buffalo, had to sit out a season as a transfer and was solid as a junior, averaging 15 points per game. The 6-1 guard had become go-to guy 1-A this season, second on the team with 19 points while matching Holder in assists. Big shots? He’s go those, too, including a clutch 3 to kill a Kansas rally in one of the loudest atmospheres in the game.

Justice plays with Pete Maravichian flair, has a range that seems to extend to the opposing team’s free-throw line.

Then there’s Remy Martin. The freshman guard is more spiced rum than cognac, playing with a confidence and intensity well beyond his years.

Martin treats irritation by the opposing team’s point guard as the highest honor, often nodding his bouncy hair in approval when he officially finds his way under their skin. He was the spark off the bench against Kansas, finishing with 21 points and five steals.

“They are now freed up to be who they are more,” Hurley said. “I think they would have shown that on a more regular basis last year if I had done my job a little better and sooner and gotten them some help.”

That help is here and the Sun Devils are running and gunning with it.

Follow John Marshall on Twitter @jmarshallap