Film Session: A breakdown of Okafor-vs.-Kaminsky, Duke-Wisconsin’s key matchup

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There may not be a better game all season long than the battle between No. 4 Duke and No. 2 Wisconsin that will take place in Madison on Wednesday evening.

It’s not difficult to figure out why. The Blue Devils and the Badgers are both currently sitting in the top three of the NBCSports.com Top 25 largely because you may not find two better offensive teams in the country. Some teams will score more points than the Badgers because of their style of play, but no one runs better sets and, by the time the season is all said and done, there may not be a more efficient team than Wisconsin. Duke? They have as much firepower on that end of the floor as anyone.

And that’s really all you need to make a college basketball game held in December must-see TV, but it gets even better. Duke and Wisconsin feature the nation’s two best players, two guys that play the same position, are from the same area and just so happen to be the focal point for those powerhouse offensive attacks. One of them, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, is a senior that came out of nowhere to become an all-american. The other is a freshman, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, that has been pegged as a superstar since he hit the high school ranks.

It does not get any better than this.

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Okafor and Kaminsky may play the same position and are both be labeled as offensively skilled, but the way that they play is not all that similar.

And therein lies the most intriguing part of this matchup.

Okafor is one of the most skilled low-post scorers I’ve ever seen come through the college ranks. We talk about upside and ceiling all the time when it comes to basketball prospects, and Okafor’s ceiling is the next Tim Duncan. He needs to become a better out-of-his-area rebounder and he’s still learning how to defend and use his size to overpower defenders, but when you combine the fact that he’s 6-foot-11 and 260 pounds with nimble feet, a soft touch around the rim and an exquisite ability to pass out of the post, what you’re left with is a guy that is almost impossible to game-plan for.

In his first game against high-major competition, Okafor had 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting in a 77-63 win over No. 19 Michigan State. The Spartans began the game allowing their big men — Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello — to go one-on-one against Okafor in the post, and it wasn’t pretty. He scored eight of Duke’s first 14 points, assisting on one bucket and creating a dunk for Amile Jefferson with his passing out of the post on another possession.

Michigan State mixed up their defenses later in the game, which helped slow down Okafor but which also created mismatches elsewhere on the floor. The problem with defending Duke is that they can surround Okafor with a lineup where they have four players with three-point range that are capable of scoring 20 points on a given night. Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Rasheed Sulaimon, Matt Jones, Grayson Allen. All of those guys can hit open threes, can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, and will make the next pass if their teammate has a better look.

And Okafor?

He’s able to find the guys that are left open when defenses collapse around him.

When the Blue Devils played Stanford, Johnny Dawkins started the game by putting 6-foot-8 Reid Travis — a guy that was recruited by BCS schools to be a football player — on Okafor and 7-footer Stefan Nastic on Jefferson. The Cardinal would double Okafor on the catch, which did not work out at all for Stanford.

Here are two examples of what I mean. In the first, you can see Okafor (red circle) getting double-teamed. Jefferson (green circle) is left all alone until the basket, and Okafor found him for a dunk:

source:
Screengrab via Synergy

In this next example, Okafor (red) is trapped in what looks like a bad spot on the baseline, but Tyus Jones (green) is all alone in the corner on the other side of the floor. Okafor sees him, and while he doesn’t get the assist, Duke ended up getting a dunk on the play as the ball was moved and the Stanford defense broke down:

source:
Screengrab vis Synergy

What Stanford did in the second half was to allow Nastic to try and defend Okafor one-on-one, and given Nastic’s size, that was as effective as any defense that Okafor has seen this season.

I expect Wisconsin to do the same on Wednesday night.

Kaminsky is a 7-footer. He’s just as big and just as strong as Okafor. He’s not quite as good as Nastic is on the defensive end of the floor, but his size will give Okafor trouble as the freshman hasn’t quite figured out how to bully players his own size. It’s the same way that the Badgers defended Josh Smith last week when they beat Georgetown in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Add in the fact that Okafor does not draw a lot of fouls — he’s gone to the line 23 times in seven games, nine of them coming against Army — and Bo Ryan doesn’t have to be all that concerned about his all-american getting into foul trouble.

What will be more interesting is how Wisconsin decides to defend Jefferson, but I’ll come back to that in a second.

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The way Wisconsin utilizes Kaminsky is much different from what Duke does with Okafor. Kaminsky is a talented low-post scorer, but what makes him so dangerous is his perimeter ability. Kaminsky was a guard for most of his life, but he hit a late growth-spurt that sent him up to 7-foot without doing any damage to his coordination or ball skills.

He can hit threes and he can put the ball on the floor and he can do things like this, and that opens up a bevy of options for Ryan, who has, since his Division III days, believed that the toughest thing to stop is a bigger player going one-on-one in the post. What he does better than anyone in the country is something called inverting the offense, which is a simple concept, really: He has his big men throwing entry passes to his perimeter players that are posting up. He’s able to do this because he always has skilled big men with three point range.

And in this matchup, the Badgers will have a size advantage at almost every position on the floor outside of Kaminsky, particularly on the perimeter. Sam Dekker is 6-foot-9 and he’ll likely be guarded by 6-foot-7 Justise Winslow, if not someone smaller. Josh Gasser is 6-foot-3 and will have one of Duke’s two point guards on him. Nigel Hayes is stronger than Jefferson, and may end up being guarded by Winslow quite a bit as well.

Regardless of what the matchups are, what we do know is that Kaminsky will be allowed to be the guy that spreads the floor for the Badgers, putting Okafor, who has a reputation for being an average, at best, defender, in a difficult position.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Trae Jackson (green), Wisconsin’s point guard, is the player posting up with four Oklahoma defenders surrounding him. Kaminsky (red) is wide open at the top of the key:

source:
Screengrab via Synergy

The end result?

Three-ball for Kaminsky.

This is not an uncommon occurrence, either. If you read Luke Winn’s Power Rankings, you would know that all of Kaminsky’s three attempts are coming from the right wing or the top of the key. The reason for this? The sets that Wisconsin run to invert their offense all involve a back-screen for a player on the opposite wing who comes in behind the defense …

source:
Screengrab via Synergy

… and posts up on the left block. To spread the floor, Kaminsky will either be at the top of the key or at the opposite wing:

source:
Screengrab via Synergy

All of this brings me back to Amile Jefferson.

Jefferson is a 6-foot-8 forward that can defend in the post, meaning he is the ideal guy for Duke to have on the floor to deal with Hayes, who is one of the most improved players in the country. That would allow Justise Winslow to slide over and cover Dekker at the small forward spot, but it would also mean that Duke would then have two guys on the floor offensively that can be helped off of.

Teams do not even need to guard Jefferson 12 feet from the rim. When Stanford doubled Okafor, they doubled off of Jefferson every single time. Winslow is an improving shooter, but he’s not to the point where he cannot be helped off of.

Which creates a conundrum for Mike Krzyzewski.

With Jefferson on the floor, it allows him to defend Bo Ryan — and how he uses Kaminsky — better. But at the same time, it makes it that much easier for Ryan to double-team Okafor and force the ball out of his hands.

It’s fascinating.

In a matchup with this much hype and talent and coaching acumen, the x-factor is a guy who takes five shots a night.

Wesson, No. 6 Ohio State unload on Penn State 106-74

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Kaleb Wesson scored 28 points and had 10 rebounds for his ninth career double-double, helping No. 6 Ohio State rout Penn State 106-74 on Saturday.

Ohio State scored 100 points against a Big Ten rival for the first time since 1991.

Four players hit double figures for the Buckeyes (9-0, 1-0 Big Ten), who shot 57.4 percent from the field. Andre Wesson scored 15, and sophomores Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad each had 14.

Izaiah Brockington scored 19 points and Seth Lundy added 10 for the Nittany Lions (7-2, 0-1), who lost for the second time in four games and gave up 100 points for the first time since 2017. Penn State managed just 25 rebounds, far below its average of 44.

Senior Lamar Stevens, Penn State’s leading scorer averaging 17.9 points, managed just 11 against the Buckeyes and fouled out after getting a technical with 13:26 left in the second half.

Ohio State started the first half 1 for 6 from beyond the arc, but started draining 3-pointers in the second half, hitting 14 of 26 for 53.8 percent for the game. The Buckeyes were led by Washington, who hit four straight and Kaleb Wesson who shot 4 for 6 from long range, including three straight in the second half. Ohio State now has back-to-back games with 10 or more 3-pointers.

BIG PICTURE

Penn State: After showing early promise, Lions ran into Ohio State’s potent offense.

Ohio State: Solidified its standing as a Top 10 team, dominating every facet of the game and dispatching Penn State with ease.

UP NEXT

Penn State: At Maryland Tuesday.

Ohio State: At Minnesota Dec. 15.

Balanced effort leads No. 24 Butler past Florida 76-62

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INDIANAPOLIS — Sean McDermott and Aaron Thompson each scored 16 points to lead No. 24 Butler to a 76-62 win over Florida on Saturday.

Thompson made 6 of 7 shots and delivered seven assists. McDermott contributed a team-high seven rebounds.

Jordan Tucker added 13 points off the bench for the Bulldogs (9-0). Kamar Baldwin, who was averaging a team-high 17.5 points for Butler, scored 12 points.

Baldwin picked up two fouls in the first 3-plus minutes of the game and was limited to 11 minutes in the first half. The senior guard finished with three fouls.

Kerry Blackshear Jr. led Florida (6-3) with 17 points. Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke each scored 11.

The Bulldogs shot 52% percent while holding the Gators to 44%. Butler made 9 of 20 3-pointers while Florida was 6 of 21. Each team had 10 turnovers.

The Gators, who trailed by nine at halftime, narrowed the deficit to six points twice before the Bulldogs pulled away. Butler’s largest lead was 19 points at 61-42 with 7:33 remaining.

Butler finished the first half with a 19-5 run to take a 35-26 lead at halftime. Trailing 21-16, the Bulldogs had an 11-0 run.

Butler owns the nation’s longest streak of consecutive non-conference home victories at 56.

BIG PICTURE

Florida: After a solid start on the road, the Gators’ four-game winning streak end with a thud. Entering the game with a 30% average from 3-point range, Florida shot 23%.

Butler: The Bulldogs won their third meeting with an SEC opponent in the last four games, previously beating Missouri 63-52 in the Hall of Fame Classic on Nov. 24 and host Mississippi 67-58 Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Florida: Home game against another Big East opponent Providence on Dec. 17.

Butler: Travels to No. 18 Baylor on Tuesday.

No. 18 Baylor beats No. 12 Arizona 63-58 as fans get free tickets

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WACO, Texas — MaCio Teague scored 19 points, Freddie Gillespie had 17 points and 13 rebounds and No. 18 Baylor defeated No. 12 Arizona 63-58 on Saturday for the Wildcats’ first loss.

Admission was free at Baylor’s campus arena because the Bears were playing Oklahoma in the Big 12 football championship game, which started about the same time 100 miles north of Waco at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.

It was supposed to be the first true road game for the Wildcats (9-1), but their fans might have outnumbered the Baylor contingent. They loudly chanted “U of A” before the Baylor introductions but had a hard time getting into the game early, with Arizona giving up a 15-0 run and shooting 33 percent in the first half.

The Wildcats, whose 52-game home winning streak was stopped by Baylor last December, did enough to stay close and had the fans chanting several times in the second half.

Arizona finally got the deficit under six by scoring five points on one possession to get within 57-56 with less than two minutes remaining. Jemarl Baker Jr. hit a 3 as a foul was called and Zeke Nnaji made both free throws.

Teague, who was 9 of 10 on free throws, made a pair at the other end, then blocked a 3-point attempt by Nico Mannion, who led the Wildcats with 15 points. Leading by four, Baylor got another block from Gillespie in the final minute.

Nnaji scored 12 for Arizona, which made just two of 18 3-pointers after coming in sixth in the nation at 43% shooting from long range. The last miss came from Josh Green with a chance to tie in the final seconds.

The Bears (7-1) started hot in the fourth-ever Top 25 matchup in Waco but cooled off while Arizona simply stayed cold. Baylor shot 30% to 27% for the Wildcats, who came in fourth in the nation in scoring at 87.1 points per game.

The Wildcats stayed close by making free throws. Mannion was 8 of 8 and Chase Jeter matched Teague by going 9 of 10. Arizona was 28 of 34 from the line.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: The Wildcats didn’t play well in their first real test this season, and first true road game against ranked team since beating rival Arizona State 77-70 in February 2018. Arizona won’t have to wait long for the next one. No. 9 Gonzaga visits next Saturday.

Baylor: The Bears took control early without a lot of help from Jared Butler, third in the Big 12 in scoring coming in. The sophomore guard didn’t score until after the 15-0 run that put Baylor up 22-8 and finished with 13 points.

UP NEXT

Arizona: Omaha at home Wednesday.

Baylor: Butler at home Tuesday.

Best Bets: Previewing the weekend’s biggest college basketball games

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There are no Vegas lines for these games just yet. All analysis will be based on KenPom projections, which typically end up close to the opening lines anyway.

No. 7 NORTH CAROLINA at No. 5 VIRGINIA, Sun. 4:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Virginia 61, North Carolina 55
  • TICKETS: Click here

I am going to be fascinated to see where the line for this game opens up, because neither of these teams are playing all that well right now, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Virginia was blown out by unranked Purdue on the road, 69-40, while North Carolina is coming off of a drubbing at the hands of Ohio State in their own building, 74-49.

My initial lean here is going to be the Virginia side, depending on how much they are laying, but I do think that the best bet would likely be the under assuming the line opens at or around 116. The logic is relatively simple, really. Virginia has still been one of college basketball’s most intimidating defenses this season despite what happened against Purdue. While nice, 69 points doesn’t sound like a lot, but the 1.19 points-per-possession the Boilermakers did post was one of just four times in the last two-plus years that a team has done that against Virginia.

Purdue has done it twice.

That’s because the Boilermakers run the precise kind of action you need to run to beat the Pack-Line. There is a ton of motion, guys running off of screens every which way and action happening simultaneously on both sides of the floor. This is not what North Carolina does, and when combined with the fact that – as shown in the video embedded below – the Tar Heels have basically one option offensively right now, leads me to believe that the Wahoos will control tempo, overwhelm UNC defensively and keep this game in the 50s.

Think about it like this. Ohio State-UNC finished at 123 total points. Virginia is the only defense in the country ranked higher on KenPom that Ohio State, and Virginia is a full 100 spots lower offensively.

PICKS: I like Virginia -5 and below, and I like the under for everything 115 and above.

No. 12 ARIZONA at No. 18 BAYLOR, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Baylor 75, Arizona 71
  • TICKETS: Click here

There are a couple of things to take into account here.

For starters, this game is being played in Waco, but there are some real questions about just how much of a home court advantage the Bears are going to have here. The football team is in the Big 12 title game, which will be played at the same time. I have a feeling that is going to take priority for the majority of the Baylor fanbase. Baylor has resorted to giving away free tickets to make sure the stands are filled.

That said, I think that Baylor has the matchup advantage here. The Bears haven’t been playing as much zone this year but it’s still something they can fall back into, which will be tricky for an Arizona team built around three freshmen. I also think the size Baylor has inside is less than ideal for a team that relies on Zeke Nnaji quite a bit. Then throw in the fact that this is Arizona’s first true road game and first game outside of the western time zone, and I like the spot for Baylor.

PICKS: I’m refraining from betting on this. I don’t have a great feel.

No. 9 GONZAGA at No. 22 WASHINGTON, Sun. 7:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Gonzaga 73, Washington 71
  • TICKETS: Click here

A rivalry game, one where I expect Gonzaga to be favored on the road. I think I like Washington here. I don’t fully trust Gonzaga’s guard play at this point in the season, and if anyone remembers the way that the Washington-Baylor game ended the first week of the season, Isaiah Stewart completely dominated Baylor’s frontline down the stretch. I can see that happening again, considering just how much Gonzaga relies on running offense through their posts.

PICKS: I think Washington will win, so getting the Huskies on the money line at +125 would be nice.

FLORIDA at No. 24 BUTLER, Sat. 12:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Butler 63, Florida 57
  • TICKETS: Click here

We’ve been betting Butler this season because the Bulldogs have been undervalued by the market all year. But now that they have that number next to their name and coming off of a really impressive win at Ole Miss, I think our chance to be all in on this team may have come to an end.

I also think that six points is a lot in this matchup, which I expect to be really low-scoring. The Gators can defend, are good at running teams off of the three-point line and can’t make threes themselves. They have a number of guards they can throw at Kamar Baldwin and have shown no desire to play fast at all this season. Butler is 348th in average possession length offensively.

PICKS: Let’s see where the total opens, but if it’s in the low-to-mid 120s, I think the under is the play in this game.

No. 20 COLORADO at No. 2 KANSAS, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Kansas 73, Colorado 65
  • TICKETS: Click here

I am definitely looking forward to this game because I feel like I haven’t had a chance to really watch Colorado yet this season. I saw a little bit of their game against Arizona State in the opener, but that’s it. So keep that in mind as I proceed to tout the Buffaloes. Here’s the logic: The Jayhawks want to run their offense through Udoka Azubuike in the post, and Colorado is top ten nationally in defensive two-point field goal percentage. They have big bodies, they have strong posts and they can make life tough for Azubuike inside.

PICKS: I think this line will open up higher than Colorado (+8). Getting the Buffaloes (+10.5) would make all of my wildest dreams come true.

No. 19 DAYTON vs. SAINT MARY’S, Sun. 4:00 p.m. (Phoenix)

  • KENPOM: Dayton 70, Saint Mary’s 68
  • TICKETS: Click here

I’ll be on Dayton here. What makes Saint Mary’s dangerous is their ability to spread teams out with their shooting and create mismatches all over the court. Dayton does the same thing, only they have Player of the Year candidate Obi Toppin creating mismatches, who should, in theory, be able to limit Malik Fitts’ advantage at the four. Playing this game at a neutral site is a bonus as well.

PICKS: I like Dayton up to (-4.5), and I would think about the under as well. Both of these teams are built on shooting, and neutral sites environments can be tough to shoot in. Saint Mary’s wanting to play at a slow pace will help as well.

CINCINNATI at XAVIER, Sat. 5:00 p.m.

  • KENPOM: Xavier 73, Cincinnati 67
  • TICKETS: Click here

My take on Cincinnati is that the Bearcats are overvalued right now. The biggest reason for that is that there seems to still be some tension between new head coach John Brannen and star guard Jarron Cumberland. I also think that Xavier is one of the teams that is being undervalued at this point. I know they struggle shooting the rock, but they are tough, they are athletic and they have a couple of game-changers in Naji Marshall, Tyrique Jones and Paul Scruggs. If Kyky Tandy can provide a bit of shooting and Quentin Goodin is truly out of his funk, the Musketeers are a top 20 team.

The only concern I have: This is a rivalry game. If Jarron Cumberland is ever going to play like a National Player of the Year candidate, this is the game he’ll do it.

PICKS: I will probably be staying away at Xavier (-6).

CBT Podcast: Georgetown’s problems, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, a weekend preview

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Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan from the Fundamentally Sound podcast go through everything that happened in a wild week of basketball, from the four – yes, four! – blowouts of in the marquee games of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge as well as the rise of DePaul and the enigma that is Indiana. Rob also discusses the situation at Georgetown at the top, and the podcast ends with a preview of what should be a lively weekend of college hoops.