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The Chase for 180: Brett Olson and Denver’s turnaround

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Who is the best shooter in the country?

It’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it? Does being a “shooter” simply mean merely being a high-level marksman from beyond the arc? Can a player who thrives in the mid-range but rarely ventures out into three-point land be eligible? How heavily should we be valuing stats like efficiency and effective field goal percentage when taking all of this into account?

One number that we like to use is “180″. How do you become a 180 shooter? By shooting 50% or better from the field overall, 40% or better from three and at least 90% from the charity stripe. From this point forward we’ll track this until the end of the regular season, providing weekly updates as well as a look into how some of the nation’s best find (and connect on) their quality looks.

The Denver Pioneers had some adjustments to make after winning 22 games and a share of the WAC title in 2012-13. From a program standpoint the school was making the move from the WAC to the Summit League, meaning that there would be new opponents to scout with North Dakota State, South Dakota State and IPFW proving to be strong programs.

And from a personnel standpoint the Pioneers would be without forward Royce O’Neale, who transferred to Baylor. O’Neale was the team’s third-leading scorer, and his status as the team’s most versatile player (he led the team in rebounding and assists) meant that more would be asked of guard Brett Olson and forward Chris Udofia.

After some early season growing pains and an 0-2 start to conference play the Pioneers have won five of their last six, with Olson being one of the key reasons why. Over the last six games Olson’s averaged 17.8 points per game (scoring 30 in a win over South Dakota), shot 57.6% from the field and 56.0% from beyond the arc. Olson was a good shooter last season, making nearly 48% of his shots from the field, 43.4% from three and 95.0% from the foul line, playing more than 34 minutes per game.

But that was with Denver having three double-digit scorers. Without Neale more would be required of Olson, and to this point in the season he’s stepped up. Olson’s raised his percentage from the field (49.1%) and has remained consistent from both the three-point (43.0%) and free-throw (93.0) lines while raising his scoring average up to 15.3 ppg.

One of the factors in Olson’s improved field goal percentage is the fact that he’s attempting more shots at the rim and fewer three-pointers. According to hoop-math.com 19.5% of Olson’s shot attempts last season were at the rim, and he’s increased that percentage to 29.8% this year. As for the three-pointers, he’s attempted just 50% (down from 66.8%) of his shots from beyond the arc this season.

More plays inside of the arc have resulted in a substantially higher free throw rate, and given how well Olson shoots from the foul line while this isn’t a guaranteed two points (on shooting fouls) it’s pretty close.

Denver plays four of its last six regular season games on the road, including a game at IPFW and games at South Dakota State and North Dakota State to finish the year. And Denver looks better equipped to handle those tests now than they did to start Summit League play, with Olson’s improved production being a key reason why.

THE TOP TEN (Note: Players much be eligible to be ranked in FG%, 3PT% and FT%. And here’s a glossary that includes the stats you’ll see used in these posts. Tempo neutral numbers per kenpom.com.)

1) Matt Kennedy (Charleston Southern)
49.7% FG, 50.0% 3PT, 90.2% FT = 189.9
Shot %: 18.8
eFG %: 56.9
True shooting %: 62.1

2) Jason Calliste (Oregon)
52.3, 50.0, 86.1 = 188.4
Shot %: 17.0
eFG %: 65.0
True shooting %: 71.2

3) Riley Grabau (Wyoming)
46.4, 48.4, 92.2 = 187
Shot %: 17.8
eFG %: 65.0
True shooting %: 70.3

4) Brett Olson (Denver)
49.1, 43.0, 93.0 = 185.1
Shot %: 22.2
eFG %: 58.8
True shooting %: 65.1

5) Phil Forte III (Oklahoma State)
45.1, 46.2, 92.5 = 183.8
Shot %: 21.8
eFG %: 63.2
True shooting %: 68.3

6) Doug McDermott (Creighton)
49.9, 42.7, 89.4 = 182.0
Shot %: 37.9
eFG %: 56.9
True shooting %: 62.2

7) Austin Tillotson (Colgate)
59.0, 49.1, 73.4 = 181.5
Shot %: 18.3
eFG %: 66.5
True shooting %: 68.3

8) Billy Baron (Creighton)
46.6, 44.8, 89.8 = 181.2
Shot %: 28.1
eFG %: 56.9
True shooting %: 63.4

9) Johnny Dee (San Diego)
43.9, 44.2, 92.2 = 180.3
Shot %: 30.8
eFG %: 54.7
True shooting %: 59.9

10) Nic Moore (SMU)
49.3, 45.4, 85.5 = 180.2
Shot %: 21.6
eFG %: 60.5
True shooting %: 64.7

Five Perimeter Marksmen (25 or fewer two-point attempts)

1) Micah Mason (Duquesne)
59.7% 3PT (10-for-21 2PT)

2) Ben Cherry (Charlotte)
50.0% 3PT (9-for-22 2PT)

3) Ethan Wragge (Creighton)
49.4% 3PT (2-for-6 2PT)

4) John Gage (Stanford)
48.8% 3PT (4-for-11 2PT)

5) Luke Moyer (Campbell)
48.3% 3PT (6-for-22 2PT)

Previous Installments
November 11
December 4
December 11
December 18
January 8
January 15
January 22
January 29
February 5

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.