CBT Monthly Awards: Duke is Team of the Month, UCLA disappoints

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With November in the books, we have a pretty good sample size to make snap judgments about what we’ve seen. The College Basketball Talk staff got together to share their thoughts on the first month of the college hoops season.

Enjoy.

 

Team of the Month:

David Harten: Duke – You can’t argue with a team that’s beaten THREE top-5 teams in a row. Just can’t. Doesn’t matter if it’s obvious.

Rob Dauster: Duke – There really is no argument here. They’ve beaten three top five teams, plus Minnesota and VCU.

Dan Martin: Duke – As everyone else has said, the Blue Devils came into the month with some doubters, and you can bet most of those have now become believers. Three wins over Top-5 wins are impressive on an NCAA Tournament resume, but to do it in the first month is unmatched.

Raphielle Johnson: Duke – I still think Indiana’s the best team currently but it’s the Blue Devils who have the best resume. They win as a result of that.

Eric Angevine: Indiana – Four years ago, the notion of Indiana being a #1 team again was absurd. Even the preseason No. 1 ranking felt a bit premature this season. But Tom Crean and his team — not just Cody Zeller, but the team — have taken all of the pressure on, played some tough games and made it through November unscathed.

 

Player of the Month:

Terrence Payne: Mason Plumlee, Duke – Plumlee No. 2 showed he can be the headlining act for a national contender. Whether it be he’s aggression on the boards or his improvement from the free throw line, Plumlee has his name in player of the year contention

Rob Dauster: Mason Plumlee, Duke – . He finally went from prospect to player. The most dominant big man in the country is the early player of the year favorite after averaging 20 and 11 through the first month.

Raphielle Johnson: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh – Mason Plumlee will get a lot of love in this category and rightfully so, but McCollum deserves some as well. Nation’s leading scorer and also became the all-time leading scorer in Patriot League history last month.

Dan Martin: C.J. McCollum, Lehigh – For variety’s sake, if it’s not Mason Plumlee, take a look at what McCollum has done: 26.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. He is showing that he made the right choice in coming back to school and has Lehigh off to a 5-2 start.

David Harten: Jeff Withey, Kansas – The Jayhawks’ 7-footer is averaging 14.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and leading the nation at 6.2 blocks per game in 28.8 minutes per. Not to mention he’s rattled off the second triple-double in program history in a win over San Jose State with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks.

Eric Angevine: Jack Cooley, Notre Dame – Jeff Withey certainly had a stellar month, but for night-in, night-out production, I’m going with Cooley. The Irish always thrive with a spiky-headed brawler in the paint, and Cooley is that guy. One thing I really, really like about Cooley is that he hits his free throws, which is crucial for someone who lives around the basket.

Troy Machir: Jack Taylor, Grinnell College – Think about this: It took Mason Plumlee seven games to score as many points as Jack Taylor scored in one game. Taylor scored 138 points in ONE GAME? This isn’t even a discussion. November belonged to Jack Taylor.

 

Freshman of the Month:

Eric Angevine: Ben McLemore, Kansas – He’s the Jayhawks’ second leading scorer (13.8 ppg), and he may overtake Jeff Withey (14.2) in that department sooner rather than later. He’s also averaging 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists and a steal and a block per game. That’s heady stuff for a freshman in Bill Self’s system.

Troy Machir: Ben McLemore, Kansas – Nothing about this kid’s play has been “freshman-like”. Through a month of play, there aren’t many Big-XII players, freshman or not, who are playing better than him.

Terrence Payne: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State – Ask to take a big role with injuries, hasn’t disappointed for the Cowboys.

Rob Dauster: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State – He’s got Oklahoma State ranked despite the fact the lost two players to season ending injuries. Impressive.

Raphielle Johnson: Jahii Carson, Arizona State – Herb Sendek said the Sun Devils would play faster and they have, with Carson being the biggest reason why they’ve been successful. He’ll only get better as the season wears on too.

David Harten: Anthony Bennett, UNLV – He’s averaged 19.5 points and 7.8 rebounds and anchored the front line for the Runnin’ Rebels in the early part of the season. His rise to prominence in college basketball took less time than his announcement ceremony.

Dan Martin: Isaiah Austin, Baylor – Austin is a versatile forward who, even in his first game of the season, showed he can play. He had 22 points in 17 minutes against Lehigh before spraining his ankle and is averaging 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.

 

Game of the Month:

Troy Machir: Indiana 82, Georgetown 72 OT – The best team in the country was pushed to the brink by a then un-ranked team with no seniors on the roster. The ebbs and flows of the game is what made it so special. The final score doesn’t properly reflect the quality of basketball we were treated too.

Eric Angevine: Duke 76, Louisville 71 – The Indiana-Georgetown OT tilt was also on my radar, but Duke vs. Louisville had too many story lines and too much drama to ignore. Imagine how much better it would have been if Dieng had been there to counter Plumlee. Nonetheless, it was the biggest chance at a statement game in the top five that we’ve seen so far, and Duke made the statement, which was”Yeah, we’re still Duke.”

David Harten: New Mexico 86, Davidson 81 – The Lobos survived 86-81 after Wildcats went up early on a bevy of threes — up 25-11 at one point and 45-31 at half — before Tony Snell, who went for 25, went ham and brought them back late in the second half and The Pit was rocking super hard for Marathon Madness.

 

Most Surprising Team:

David Harten: Colorado – Look at the Buffs! A 6-0 start with wins over Baylor and Murray State. Andre Roberson is clocking 10.8 points and 11 rebounds per and they’ve gotten production from Askia Booker (team leader at 16.8 ppg, 3.0 apg), Spencer Dinwiddie (14.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Josh Scott (14.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg).

Raphielle Johnson: SMU – Honestly I thought this team would be on the receiving end of beatings on a regular basis, Larry Brown or not. They’re 7-1, and regardless of what some may say of the opposition that’s a major improvement from last season.

Eric Angevine: Oklahoma State – While we were all waiting around to see if Baylor, West Virginia or some other team was going to rise up and challenge Kansas in the Big 12, it turned out that the Smart money was on the Cowboys.

Rob Dauster: Michigan – We knew the Wolverines were going to be good, but did anyone think they could put together an argument for being the best team in the country? For my money, Trey Burke has been the best point guard in the country.

Dan Martin: Illinois – The Illini were chosen to finish ninth in the Big Ten in the preseason media poll, but new head coach John Groce has his team 8-0 and ranked 22nd in the country. Their first real test, though, comes Dec. 8 against Gonzaga.

 

Least Surprising Team:

Eric Angevine: UCLA – Why did we expect them to be any different? For the past few years, this once-proud program has been on the rocks due to an apparent lack of discipline and a failure to retain top players. Nothing has changed, yet, but I’d be surprised if we see the same head coach in Bruin Blue next season.

Raphielle Johnson: UCLA – Talented but when you’re mixing skilled rookies with vets and no proven leader, things can get interesting. 5-2 isn’t a bad record, but I’m not buying this group as a bonafide contender right now.

Terrence Payne: UCLA – Bruins had potential through the roof entering the season. Without Shabazz Muhammad for the majority of the summer and fall and relying on a core of freshmen, it’s not surprising the Bruins and Ben Howland are off to a rocky start.

David Harten: UCLA – There was so little margin for error that you figured one thing going wrong would deflate the whole thing. Then the nail-biter over James Madison, the UC-Irvine loss and Josh Smith and Tyler Lamb left the team. That margin has been reached.

Dan Martin: Kansas – It never seems to matter what pieces Bill Self has in Kansas. They still end up competing. Even after losing Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor to the pros, Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore lead the Jayhawk attack in 2012-13.

Troy Machir: Indiana – They were the best team in the country before the season began, and after the month, nothing has changed. They are still the best team in the country. I’m not surprised at all.

 

Bandwagon you are jumping on:

Dan Martin: Michigan – The Wolverines won the NIT Tip Off in New York over a solid Pittsburgh team and pesky Kansas State squad, then beat No. 18 NC State. I really like Michigan’s trio of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Glenn Robinson III. Hardaway, Jr.’s transformation into a full player is key for coach John Beilein’s team.

Terrence Payne: Michigan – Very talented team, led by a stellar backcourt of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Burke is making a strong case to be the best floor general in the county, while Hardaway showing huge confidence in his game.

Rob Dauster: Georgetown – That zone is going to be a nightmare for everyone, and Markel Starks gives them a veteran back court leader.

Raphielle Johnson: Arizona – Wildcats go ten deep without much of a drop off (if any). Sean Miller’s got his best team since arriving in the Old Pueblo, and that includes the Elite 8 team in his second season.

Troy Machir: Cincinnati – Sean Kilpatrick has got to be somewhere near the top of the Wooden Award watch list after a month of play. Bearcats lead the country in rebounding and are seventh in points per game. They’ve also played much better non-conference opposition than in years past.

David Harten: Minnesota – I expected the Golden Gophers to be good, but they’ve been solid without much out of Trevor Mbakwe, who is making his way back from a torn ACL. Besides a loss to (my team of the month) Duke, they’ve rattled off wins over Memphis, Stanford and Florida State and earned a Top 25 ranking.

 

Bandwagon you are jumping off:

Raphielle Johnson: Drexel – Bruiser Flint’s team is tough but not particularly deep. And after losing Chris Fouch for the season it’s difficult to see the Dragons winning the CAA.

Eric Angevine: North Carolina – I know, I just bought them cheap for Cyber Monday, but it wouldn’t be the first time I pulled something disappointing out of the discount bin (I’m looking at you, DVD of Neverending Story 3). Rob’s right – there’s no distributor in Chapel Hill, and you can’t run the system without one.

Rob Dauster: St. Mary’s – Matthew Dellavedova is a stud, but he doesn’t have enough support around him.

David Harten: Baylor – Tons of talent, not a ton of discipline. A loss to Colorado wasn’t too bad, but the loss to College of Charleston was. They could turn it around, but they’ll have to do it in games against Kentucky, Northwestern and BYU.

Dan Martin: Memphis – Many thought this was going to be “The Season” for Memphis, but perhaps they’ll need to iron out some more wrinkles before everything comes together in Tennessee. A disappointing Battle 4 Atlantis now has the Tigers at 4-2 and averaging 14 turnovers per game.

Terrence Payne: Memphis – Tigers were suppose to be a factor this season, hasn’t shown it thus far. Josh Pastner still trying to get it all together, but in the mean time can sell the fans on a highly-touted recruiting class coming in.

 

Stat of the Month:

Raphielle Johnson: Mason Plumlee is now Duke’s all-time leader in dunks with 149. Robert Brickey was the previous record holder with 147.

Terrence Payne: Mason Plumlee is just under 80 percent from the free throw line to start the year. Compare that to 53 percent last year, 44 percent as a sophomore, and 54 percent as a freshman.

David Harten: Siena’s O.D. Anosike averaging almost as many rebounds as points. The 6-8 senior lead the nation in the stat at 12.5 per game last season, but he’s taken it to new heights this year. The Saints’ big man is averaging 14.4 points and 14.1 rebounds through five games.

Eric Angevine: Cal State Fullerton is shooting the lights out. 54.4% from inside the arc, 79.6% from the stripe, and a stunning 50% from deep. If the Titans manage to locate some defense over the next few weeks, they could actually be dangerous.

Dan Martin: Larry Drew II is averaging 8.1 assists and just 1.3 turnovers per game this season for UCLA. With so many bashing coach Ben Howland for announcing Drew II as his point guard, the former UNC guard is producing.

 

Final Four Picks after one month:

Eric Angevine: Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Florida
Rob Dauster: Indiana, Duke, Kansas, Missouri
David Harten: Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Michigan
Raphielle Johnson: Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Gonzaga
Troy Machir: Indiana, Duke, Michigan, Gonzaga
Dan Martin: Indiana, Duke, Kansas, Michigan
Terrence Payne Indiana, Duke, Michigan, Gonzaga

Troy Machir is the Managing Editor of Ballin’ is a Habit and can be found on Twitter at @TroyMachir

Report: Western Kentucky’s Lamonte Bearden staying in 2018 NBA Draft

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Western Kentucky guard Lamonte Bearden will stay in the 2018 NBA Draft after hiring an agent, according to a report from ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-3 Bearden just completed his redshirt junior season with the Hilltoppers as he averaged 11.8 points, 3.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game. A slippery guard with good size, Bearden shot 47 percent from the field and 82 percent from the charity stripe while also getting in the passing lanes for 1.7 steals per game.

Although Bearden has good size and athleticism at lead guard, his perimeter jumper has been inconsistent during his college career. He was 31 percent from three-point range (a career high) this past season. Starting his college career at Buffalo, Bearden helped lead the Bulls to the NCAA tournament before opting to play in Conference USA for Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers will certainly miss Bearden’s presence in their backcourt as the program has seven new players signed for next season.

USC makes a statement landing Class of 2019 four-star forward Isaiah Mobley

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USC ended a strong week of recruiting with another major statement on Friday afternoon as four-star Class of 2019 forward Isaiah Mobley pledged to the Trojans.

The second major Class of 2019 commitment for USC during the week, the 6-foot-9 power forward joins five-star big man Onyeka Okongwu. The Compton Magic teammates should be able to help replace the loss of Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, with Mobley playing the skilled, floor-spacing Boatwright’s role and Okongwu providing the interior energy of Metu.

Having two highly-touted big men commit in the same week is huge for USC. And it looks like the start of even bigger things in a continually-evolving SoCal recruiting war against Pac-12 rival UCLA.

Landing both Mobley and Okongwu is significant for the Trojans for a number of reasons. As previously mentioned, both come from the famous Compton Magic grassroots program that runs on the adidas Gauntlet. While landing AAU teammates from a regional program is common for high-major programs of USC’s stature, the commitments signify that the Trojans are the ones with the biggest pull with the Magic at the current moment.

And the Magic used to get raided by UCLA.

In the past few years, the Bruins signed T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Jaylen Hands and Jalen Hill from the Compton Magic. Now, it’s USC who looks to be in the driver’s seat recruiting the program.

The Trojans aren’t done, either.

Newly-hired USC assistant coach Eric Mobley is the father Isaiah Mobley, as well as five-star Class of 2020 big man Evan Mobley. As Rivals national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi noted in his story about Isaiah, “Barring something strange happening, look for the younger Mobley to join his brother and father by committing to USC within the next two weeks.”

That would mean the Trojans would have landed three top-30 caliber big men in the span of a few weeks. That allows the USC coaching staff to recruit other positions extremely hard. Outside of Kentucky, USC has arguably the best future recruiting status of any program in the country.

The Trojans have taken full advantage of UCLA letting go popular assistant coach David Grace. The Bruins are still pulling in top-100 prospects, as evidenced by Grant Sherfield and Jaime Jaquez’s commitments in the Class of 2019, but losing two Magic kids in a week to a rival has to sting.

Considering where USC was last fall with the FBI investigation, who saw this type of recruiting swing coming? Other programs involved in the investigation like Arizona, Auburn and Oklahoma State have landed solid recruits. They also haven’t pulled in nearly the high-level talent that the Trojans currently have committed.

Even amidst the uncertainty surrounding the FBI investigation, USC is still pulling in elite talent while beating local rivals. It’ll be fascinating to see if the Trojans can continue to recruit at this level as they try to fill out the rest of an important recruiting class.

USF signs Oklahoma State transfer Zack Dawson

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USF landed a major addition on Friday as the school announced the signing of Oklahoma State transfer guard Zack Dawson.

The 6-foot-3 Dawson is a former consensus top-100 prospect coming out of high school as he’ll have to sit out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules. A native of the region, Dawson will have three years of eligibility remaining once he’s able to play again.

Dismissed from Oklahoma State on Dec. 14 for violating team rules, Dawson averaged 4.4 points and1.6 assists per contest as he only suited up in five games for the Cowboys. Once Dawson is eligible to play for USF, he gives the Bulls a potentially dynamic backcourt along with rising sophomore guard David Collins.

“We are excited to welcome Zack back home to Florida as a member of the Bulls family,” USF head coach Brian Gregory said in a release. “He is a dynamic and versatile guard who can impact the game in a variety of ways. Zack comes from one of the best high school programs in the state, South Miami High School, so he immediately brings a championship attitude here to the University of South Florida.”

This is a really nice pickup for the Bulls, as they utilized a local transfer to help bolster the roster. Landing top-100 kids out of high school is going to be tough until USF boosts its basketball credibility. But getting a former top-100 player on the transfer market is a solid approach to building the Bulls into a respectable threat.

Michael Porter Jr.: ‘I’m the best player in this draft’

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The more I think about it, the more that Michael Porter Jr. is becoming the most interesting prospect at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft.

As a high school senior, he was considered by many to be the top player in the class, a 6-foot-10 combo-forward with a lethal three-point shot, NBA dunk contest athleticism and the versatility to, one day, be a multi-positional defender that would seamlessly fit into fit into the modern NBA.

But his one and only season at Missouri was derailed by back surgery, and that has allowed the rest of the class of 2017 to shine while we have focused on everything else that comes with drafting Porter. The reputation that he had for the majority of his high school career of being soft. The intel that was coming out of Missouri, that he was cocky and arrogant and something of a bad teammate. Questions about whether or not he is truly a wing or a four, more like a more athletic Lauri Markkanen.

When the only thing that we’ve had a chance to see this season is an out-of-shape Porter struggling in postseason games, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that his hype train has derailed.

“I know without a doubt that I’m the — I played against all these guys, they’re all great players — but I’m the best player in this draft,” Porter told ESPN. “And I just can’t wait to show what I’m capable of.”

And therein lies the conundrum for any team drafting him.

I have little doubt that Porter is going to be able to score and score a lot in the NBA. I think he and Bagley are the safest bets to average 20 points at the NBA level before their rookie contract runs out.

But putting up points and playing on winning basketball teams are not one and the same. For a ten-year stretch after his rookie season, Rudy Gay averaged at least 17.2 points while making the playoffs once during that stretch. Is that what Porter is going to turn into at the next level? Or will be find a way to become the kind of NBA defender his athleticism says he should be and, by the time he signs his first contract extension, end up the player that Paul George is?

The mitigating factor here is that Porter is going to do a fantastic job in every interview he has. He’s an intelligent, charismatic and articulate kid that is going to be able to sell himself. The red flags that he has aren’t going to show when he’s sitting down in front of NBA general managers.

They would have shown up — or been written off — if there was a season’s worth of game-tape available, but there isn’t. What that means is that scouts are going to have to decide whether or not Porter, who by all accounts had a very impressive senior season in high school, is that player or the one that had the reputation for being soft for years before that.

And all of that is going to come after the doctor’s have a chance to examine his back to see if the surgery he underwent fixed what was wrong, or if this is the kind of situation where a recurrence is likely.

The result is the widest range for any player at the top of the draft.

He could sell someone on taking him as a top four pick. He could also slide his way down to the Knicks at No. 9 or the 76ers at No. 10.

Which is what makes him the most interesting prospect at the top of this draft.

P.J. Washington ‘definitely going back to school’ without first round guarantee

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Kentucky forward P.J. Washington is one of the handful of players that currently finds themselves in the tenuous position of having their name in the NBA draft pool without having a clear picture of where, exactly, they are going to end up getting picked.

Will they be a late-first round pick? Will he be an early second round pick? Will he even be drafted at all?

Washington told reporters at the NBA combine this week that, if he’s a first round pick, he’ll be heading to the NBA. If he only gets a second round guarantee, he’ll be returning to school.

As we detailed last week, getting selected in the second round does not mean a player is destined to end up being broke his first year out of school. In the last six drafts, only one college player picked in the top ten picks of the second round (31-40) did not receive a guaranteed contract. In the 2017 NBA Draft, every college player selected in the top 50 received a guaranteed deal of at least one year, and Thomas Bryant was the only player whose one-year guaranteed deal was at the league minimum.

That doesn’t mean that Washington should leave Kentucky if he’s going to be a second round pick. If he returns to school, becomes a 42 percent three-point shooter (and can make free throws) and proves that he’s more versatile defensively than he was his year, then he could move up into the first round in a weaker 2019 draft.

It’s a risk for him, financially, to leave after this year if he doesn’t get that first round guarantee. It’s also a risk to return to school, where the best-case scenario isn’t always what happens.

I don’t envy the decision he has to make, but I am glad that Washington will have every chance in the world to be informed about the decision.