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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

No. 22 Butler ruins No. 2 Villanova’s seniors’ perfect Pavilion record

Butler center Nate Fowler and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, right, vie for a rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Villanova, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson
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All Villanova players have known since they joined the program is winning at The Pavilion. Late into Wednesday’s game against No. 22 Butler, it looked like that would continue to be their only frame of reference for a group of seniors that were 45-0 in the building.

Then another ‘0’ turned that zero into a ‘1.’

The Bulldogs ripped off an 18-0 run in a 5-minute span to ultimately claim a 74-66 victory over second-ranked and defending national champion Villanova.

VIllanova looked like it was going to cruise to another home win when Josh Hart’s 3-pointer with 10 minutes, 37 seconds remaining put the Wildcats up 49-42.

They wouldn’t score again until nearly the 4-minute mark.

During that span, Butler made 7 of 11 shots, with three being 3-pointers, while the Wildcats went 0 of 6 from the field and turned the ball over twice.

A seven-point lead for Villanova became an 11-point advantage for Butler. Villanova would try to rally, but couldn’t pull it off as it saw its home winning run stopped, its seniors’ perfect Pavilion record blemished and its seven-game winning streak come to a halt.

Beyond it probably being immensely annoying to the senior class, the loss probably doesn’t hurt Villanova too much as it looks to hold on to a No. 1 seed, preferably in the East region. The Wildcats’ resume is still as strong as nearly anyone in the country and they are, after all, the defending champs. They’ll be fine.

For Butler, it’s a signature win for a team that’s had a number of really good victories, but a few confounding losses, like St. John’s on the road and to Creighton (without Maurice Watson) and Georgetown at home. Beating Villanova – at the Pavilion, no less – could be worth a seed line.

Keelan Martin was fantastic for Butler, going for 23 points and eight boards, while Kamar Baldwin went for 15 points off the bench.

Jalen Brunson led the way for Villanova with 24 points while Josh Hart had 18 points and six rebounds. Kris Jenkins struggled, going 1 of 8 from the floor while scoring eight points.

The Wildcats get a chance to start a new streak at the Pavilion on Saturday with Creighton coming to town.

 

No. 8 North Carolina stakes their claim to the title of ‘nation’s best’ with beatdown of No. 7 Louisville

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 22:  Theo Pinson #1 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after a play against the Louisville Cardinals during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 22, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
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North Carolina may not have anyone on their roster that sends chills down the spine of opposing coaches, and they may not have anyone on their roster that is going to be targeted by NBA franchises as lottery pick, and they may not be dominating the headlines like undefeated Gonzaga, reigning champ Villanova, winner of 13 straight Big 12 titles Kansas or even Tobacco Road rival Duke.

They’re not a sexy pick, they’re not the favorite in Vegas and they may finally crack the No. 1 seed line in all bracket projections after beating No. 7 Louisville 74-63 on Wednesday night, but at this point, I’m not sure that the Tar Heels aren’t the best team in college basketball.

‘The Best Team In College Basketball’ is not an easy title to earn this season, not because there are too many candidates but more because everyone of those candidates have some kind of glaring flaw that makes you wonder have they’ve made it to late-February with a winning record. Think: UCLA’s defense. Or maybe: Kansas’ total lack of front court depth. How about: Kentucky can’t shoot. And then there’s: Duke doesn’t have a point guard, or: Gonzaga doesn’t play anyone.

We can play that game with every team in the country.

In fact, I did, just last week on a podcast.

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

North Carolina didn’t escape our wrath. There are question marks about Joel Berry II’s consistency, as he had a nasty habit of laying an egg every once in a while. Is that defense going to hold up for six games in a single-elimination tournament? Do they have enough consistent three-point shooting? Can Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson stay healthy?

Here’s the thing: I think the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’.

Justin Jackson has developed into a bonafide all-american and quite possibly the ACC Player of the Year. He’s a versatile scorer that is shooting the grip off the ball and has proven the ability to be the guy to take and make big shots for the Tar Heels this season. That’s taken some of the pressure off of Berry, who can spend more time as a secondary offensive weapon, facilitator and a leader than having to worry about carrying the team offensively. Theo Pinson’s return has opened some things up offensively, while UNC’s four-headed front court monster — Kennedy Meeks, Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye — have shown that they can score in the post or off of a missed shot, where they lead the nation on offensive rebounding percentage.

And as far as the defense is concerned, they’re ranked 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.com. Yes, a lot of that has to do with the pistol-whipping that was Gameday on Saturday night against Virginia, but Louisville, who was the third-best offensive team in ACC play, managed just 63 points in 73 possessions on Wednesday.

My point?

That defense doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be good enough, and it probably is.

But here’s the most important number to know: Two.

That’s how big North Carolina’s lead in the ACC is as of today. Louisville, Duke, Florida State and Notre Dame have all lost five times this year. As long as the Tar Heels can go into Pittsburgh and get a win over the Panthers, they are going to clinch a share of the ACC regular season, and they can lock up the outright league title before the showdown with the Dukies on the season’s final night.

The margins are thin, yes, but after Wednesday, North Carolina has as much claim to the title of ‘Nation’s Best’ as anyone in college basketball.

VIDEO: UNC fan ejected after heated exchange with Rick Pitino

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A UNC fan sitting court side in the Dean Dome on Wednesday was ejected from No. 8 North Carolina’s win over No. 7 Louisville after getting in a heated verbal exchange with Rick Pitino.

Cell phone video posted by a reporter attending the game showed Pitino having to be held back by members of his staff. According to ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor, who said she heard what the fan said, the line that set Pitino off was, “Pitino you suck.”

VIDEO: Brooks hits 3-pointer with 0.2 left to lift Oregon past Cal

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Dillon Brooks did it earlier against UCLA. Wednesday, he added Cal to his list.

The Oregon junior hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.2 left on the clock to give the sixth-ranked Ducks a 68-65 victory over the Bears after trailing by as many as 16 in the second half.

#POSTERIZED: Deng Adel dunks on the entire state of North Carolina

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Deng Adel of No. 7 Louisville quieted a rowdy Dean Dome crowd by going coast-to-coast and doing this to the Tar Heels: