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.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)