Film Session: The case for Jerian Grant as National Player of the Year

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source: AP
Jerian Grant (AP Photo)

I feel comfortable saying that I’ve been the conductor of the Jerian Grant hype train this season.

I wrote a feature story about him back before the season started. I’ve had him in my Player of the Year Power Rankings every week that we’ve done them, never lower than sixth and within the top three for five of the last six weeks.

That’s not a humblebrag. It’s a not-at-all-humble I Told You So.

And now?

I’m going to contradict myself.

Yesterday, when I posted the latest installment of those power rankings, I said that the race for the Wooden Award was down to just two players: Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky.

That’s incorrect.

Jerian Grant is the most valuable player in college basketball. And if he’s not the National Player of the Year right now, he’s every bit as deserving as Okafor and Kaminsky. I’m not only saying that because he went for 23 points, 12 assists and six boards — including the go-ahead jumper and an assist on the game-clinching three — as the No. 8 Irish knocked off No. 4 Duke last night.

This is a season-long travesty that needs to be corrected.

WHAT NOTRE DAME DOES

It’s called ‘Five-Out Cutters’, and it’s the crux of the Notre Dame offense this season, an offense so simple that it’s hard to believe it’s so effective.

Notre Dame spreads the floor with five guys and sends cutters through the lane, looking to get to get some movement before their big man, be it Zach Auguste or Bonzie Colson, sets a ball-screen for Grant.

And that’s it.

“It’s a simple formula,” head coach Mike Brey told NBCSports.com. “We want some initial movement and eventually a ball-screen for Jerian.”

“Then we just play play basketball.”

There’s more that goes into it than what Brey alludes to, as the offense is based on all five players on the floor being able to read each other. The key is “spacing away”, as Brey calls it, and that hinges on Notre Dame’s three wings being able to get to the opposite side of the floor at the same time as the ball-screen is being set. Notre Dame works on that every day; their warmup for practice is to run 5-on-0 offense, practicing the timing of their ‘Five-Out Cutters’ offense.

To get an idea of what makes this attack so effective, take a look at this screen-grab from last night’s game. Bonzie Colson is setting a pick for Grant (in the red box) while Demetrius Jackson, V.J. Beachem and Patrick Connaughton — all three of whom shoot better than 44.0 percent from distance — are on the opposite side of the floor:

source:
Screengrab via ESPN

It splits the floor in half, meaning that Grant and his big man will essentially have a chance to play 2-on-2. Three things that can happen here:

1) Grant can look to attack and score himself, either by turning the corner using the screen or by trying to beat Okafor by turning down the screen.

2) Grant can hit Colson — or Auguste, depending on who is on the floor — for a dunk if he rolls hard or an open-jumper if he pops:

3) One of the help-side defenders will leave the guy he is guarding, giving a lethal jump-shooter a wide-open rhythm three:

Good luck trying to stop that.

THE STATS

Let’s start with the obvious: Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country. They are currently second in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to Kenpom, just 0.1 PPP behind Wisconsin. They’re currently on pace to be the sixth-most efficient offense in Kenpom’s database, which dates back to the 2001-2002 season. Prior to their win over Duke on Wednesday night, the Irish were actually No. 1 on that list, meaning that the 77 points they scored on 68 possessions against the No. 4 team in the country actually hurt their rating.

That should give you an idea of just how good Mike Brey’s club has been on that end of the floor this season.

And they’ve needed everyone one of those points. The Irish are 20-2 on the season and 8-1 in the ACC, but they’re also 143rd in adjusted defensive efficiency and have won six of those eight ACC games by single-digits. They trailed by double-figures in four of their last five games.

In simpler terms, it’s that powerhouse offense that has been keeping Notre Dame afloat this season, launching them into the top ten and keeping the dream of bringing an ACC regular season title to South Bend alive.

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

It’s easy to look at the numbers and say that the Irish are built around their ability to shoot the three, and you technically wouldn’t be incorrect. Nearly 40 percent of their field goal attempts are three-pointers — 58th nationally — and they’re making 40.2 percent of those threes — 15th nationally. Nearly a third of the points they score come via the three-ball, and of the five players that see minutes in their perimeter rotation, three are shooting better than 44.0 percent from beyond the arc and only Grant, believe it or not, is below 37.2 percent.

So yes, Notre Dame can shoot, but that’s more of a by-product of what they run than the way their offense is structured.

As we showed you earlier, the Irish run an offensive built around Grant’s ability to break down defenses, either in isolation situations or ball-screens actions. Nearly a quarter of their total offensive possessions — and almost a third of their possessions in the half court — involve pick-and-rolls, according to Synergy. Only 11 high-major programs use ball-screens more often, and none of them are close to as efficient as Notre Dame is doing so; the Irish score 1.075 points-per-possession (PPP) when using ball-screens, which is good for fifth nationally.

No one on the Irish runs more pick-and-rolls that Grant. More than half of his total possessions come via ball-screen action, and in the half court, 68.6 percent of the time that Grant shoots or creates a shot for a teammate it comes after a ball-screen, according to Synergy. That accounts for nearly 20 percent of all of Notre Dame’s half court possessions on the season. According to Synergy, the only player in the country that has been involved in more ball-screens as the ball-handlers is Terran Petteway of Nebraska, and only Arizona’s T.J. McConnell and DePaul’s Billy Garrett have been as efficient and used in ball-screens in such a high-volume.

“Jerian is just so involved with everything on the offensive end, it’s amazing how much is on him,” Brey said. “When you look at his assist-to-turnover ratio (3.40:1) and all the decisions he has to make, it’s really remarkable. He’s a computer.”

“He conducts the whole thing.”

And Brey isn’t just talking about the offense.

“We’re down, we’re getting our [butts] kicked and Connaughton has two fouls,” Brey said of Sunday night’s overtime win at N.C. State where Grant had 23 points as the Irish erased a 14-point deficit. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m gonna hold him out, we’re starting to cut [the lead] a little bit.”

“Jerian turns to me and points at Pat and says, ‘We need him.’ I immediately turn to Pat and go, ‘Get on in there, buddy. The man needs you.'”

He’s got his fingerprints everywhere on this team.

Brey added, with a laugh, “He’s running the [Joyce Center] too.”

Jackson-Davis, No. 21 Indiana beat Edey, No. 1 Purdue 79-74

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Trayce Jackson-Davis returned to Indiana so he could celebrate a banner season.

On Saturday, the fourth-year forward added another big piece to his legacy.

He scored 25 points and then watched Jalen Hood-Schifino break free for the clinching dunk with 2 seconds left to give No. 21 Indiana a 79-74 victory over No. 1 Purdue – and a quick storming of the court.

It’s the fourth time the Hoosiers have beaten the nation’s top-ranked team at Assembly Hall, and the first since upsetting Michigan almost exactly 10 years earlier.

“I just think it’s a toughness factor,” Jackson-Davis said, explaining why this team is different. “I feel like teams in the past that I’ve been on just weren’t that tough, honestly. We’ve kind of played with a chip on our shoulders since we got punked by Rutgers and we’ve kind of found our niche and that’s what we’re doing.’

The only guy that’s been even close to Jackson-Davis’ productivity over the past month has been Purdue’s Zach Edey, who had 33 points and 18 rebounds.

But it was Jackson-Davis who walked away with his sixth win in seven games by moving within 16 points of becoming the first Indiana player to ever score 2,000 and grab 1,000 rebounds. He finished with seven rebounds and five blocks, becoming the first player to have 25 points and five blocks against a No. 1-ranked team since Marcus Camby in November 1995 against Kentucky.

Fittingly, Jackson-Davis and the Hoosiers (16-7, 7-5 Big Ten) celebrated with their fellow students, who rekindled memories of Christian Watford’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat No. 1 Kentucky in December 2010. And this time, the fans lingered on the court long after the final buzzer as they pumped fists and danced to the sweet sounds emanating from the pep band.

It marked the first time in the 216-game series Purdue (22-2, 11-2) was ranked No. 1.

“They were our sixth man honestly and we fed off of it,” Jackson-Davis said. “That was the most electric crowd since I’ve been here. They really helped us.”

But Indiana also played pretty well, forcing 16 turnovers and shooting 52.6% from the field against a defense that had held 24 consecutive opponents to 70 or fewer points. It won despite getting outrebounded 38-22 and nearly blowing a 16-point lead.

The 7-foot-4 Edey positioned Purdue for the charge by scoring eight of Purdue’s first 10 second-half points to cut a 15-point deficit to nine. He then added the final six points in a 12-4 spurt that make it 67-65 with 5:40 to play. And when Braden Smith’s layup made it 71-70 with 2:03 left, even Boilermakers coach Matt Painter sensed the fans’ angst.

“If you can flip that or tie it or take the lead there, it’s just a different feeling,” he said. “It’s really hard to overcome that, the air kind of goes out of it, things get quiet in your own arena.”

Instead, the Hoosiers forced three turnovers and eventually closed it out with four free throws, a layup from Hood-Schifino and the dunk off a perfectly designed inbound pass from second-year coach Mike Woodson, who has won both home meetings against Indiana’s archrival.

“I didn’t know the play was going to go that way, obviously,” said Hood-Schifino, who had 16 points. “But in the last timeout, I told coach I’m going to get this last bucket, so I was happy.”

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Even on an uncharacteristic day, the Boilermakers showed why they are the nation’s top team. The matchup with Edey is so difficult, Purdue can exploit it at will.

Indiana: The Hoosiers did everything they needed early – making shots, ramping up the pace and making life generally difficult for the Boilermakers. And down the stretch they showed the mettle of a team that was the preseason conference favorite.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Purdue entered the day with a nine-game winning streak and as the only one-loss team in Division I, so another loss may not knock them out of the top spot. Indiana, which reappeared Monday in the Top 25, has solidified its spot despite losing earlier this week at Maryland.

SPECIAL MOMENTS

Indiana Athletics Hall of Fame radio announcer Don Fischer was honored at halftime for calling his 50th season of play-by-play. He’s tied for the fourth-longest active tenure in Division I basketball with Kevin McKinney of Wyoming. Then during the final media timeout, the Hoosiers thanked ESPN color analyst Dick Vitale with a video tribute to his career. Vitale stood and waved to the crowd in appreciation.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Returns home Thursday against Iowa.

Indiana: Hosts Rutgers on Tuesday.

Alabama coach Nate Oats gets new 6-year, $30 million deal

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nate Oats has agreed to a new six-year, $30 million contract amid the program’s best regular season in decades.

Oats will average $5 million plus incentives over the deal running through the 2028-29 season under a deal approved by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees Compensation Committee.

It makes him the fourth-highest paid basketball coach in the Southeastern Conference and among the Top 10 nationally, athletic director Greg Byrne said.

Oats, who is in his fourth season, will make $4.5 million for the first year with $200,000 annual raises. The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (19-3, 9-0 SEC) has the team’s highest ranking this deep into a season since 1976-77.

“I am honored and humbled to receive a contract extension from the University of Alabama,” Oats said in a statement. “As I have said many times, my family and I love this community, the city of Tuscaloosa and the university.

“I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to build during our time at UA which is a direct reflection of the student-athletes, coaches and staff who have all played a big part in our success. I am excited for what’s happening in the future of our program and the direction we are heading.”

Alabama has gone 80-39 under Oats, winning the 2021 SEC regular season and tournament championships.

“Coach Oats has done an outstanding job leading our men’s basketball program, and we want him to continue doing so for many years to come,” Byrne said in a statement. “He and his staff have lifted the program back to national prominence and built a product that is exciting to be a part of for our team and for our fans.

“We were confident Nate was going to be an outstanding coach for us when we hired him, and he is not only that, but also a great leader of our young men.”

The new contract comes nearly three weeks after Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder following a fatal shooting near campus. Miles, a reserve forward, was removed from the team and suspended from the university following his arrest.

Duke women’s coach Kara Lawson says men’s ball used vs. FSU

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Duke coach Kara Lawson said her team played with a men’s basketball for the first half of a loss to Florida Stated.

The 16th-ranked Blue Devils lost to the Seminoles 70-57 in Tallahassee, Florida – the team’s second Atlantic Coast Conference loss of the season.

After her team beat Pittsburgh 53-44 , Lawson ended her news conference by speaking animatedly.

“This would never happen in a men’s game. This would never happen. It’s embarrassing for our sport,” she said.

The circumference of a women’s ball is about an inch smaller than a men’s ball and it is typically 2 ounces lighter. While it may not seem like a lot, that’s a big difference.

Lawson said throughout the first half, Duke players were “complaining about the ball.” The Blue Devils were 7 for 34 from the field in the opening 20 minutes of that game. They were 12 for 38 in the second half. Florida State made 10 of its 30 shots in the first two quarters and 14 of 31 in the second half.

“To have a game that, at the end of the season, could be the difference between a seed, between a title, my players don’t deserve that and neither do their players,” Lawson said. “It’s a complete failure. And you can figure out who the people I’m talking about that failed the sport and our players and both teams.”

Lawson said assistant coach Winston Gandy went to the scorer’s table at the half to check on the ball when he realized what the problem was. She said the game officials changed the ball to start the second half.

“We have concluded through our investigation that it was a men’s ball,” Lawson said. “The conference and Florida State is saying that it wasn’t.”

The ACC said it did a comprehensive review talking with game officials, administrators, the table crew and both schools.

“Following the thorough and objective review process, there was no evidence found to support the claim,” the conference said in a statement. “Per NCAA playing rules, there is no appeal or protest process.”

The ACC has instituted a procedural change that the game ball will be brought to the pregame meeting with the captains for approval.

“It’s very frustrating that (the game) … was not treated with the utmost respect that players on both teams deserve,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened in women’s basketball. In 2017, the College of Charleston played home games and practiced with men’s balls for most of its season until the error was was discovered.

“Let me be clear: Florida State beat us. They beat us playing with a men’s ball in the first half and a women’s ball in the second half. But I can’t say if we’d have played with a women’s ball in the first half and the second half that we would have won. But they can’t say that either,” Lawson said.

No. 1 South Carolina wins 28th straight 87-69 over ‘Cats

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dawn Staley’s pleased South Carolina had made its once-lopsided series with UConn more competitive the past few years.

She hopes her top-ranked team can accomplish another milestone when the teams meet for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

“It still stands true that we haven’t won up there,” Staley said.

Aliyah Boston had 14 points and 14 rebounds as South Carolina prepared for the top-five showdown with an 87-69 victory over Kentucky on Thursday night.

The Gamecocks (10-0 Southeastern Conference) improved to 22-0 and won their 28th straight, a run that included a 64-49 victory over the Huskies in Minneapolis last April to win the national championship.

Staley had lost her first seven games as South Carolina coach against UConn. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four matchups since.

“This particular class committed to each other,” Staley said. “When you have that type of commitment and you just want to win, you find yourself winning some games that you haven’t won before.”

Against Kentucky, reigning AP player of the year Boston extended her school mark with her 75th career double-double and moved within 11 of the SEC record of 86 games with a double-double held by LSU great Sylvia Fowles.

Things weren’t perfect for South Carolina, which fell behind early, then had its 15-point halftime lead cut to 54-48 midway through the third quarter.

Still, its dominant inside game – South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 62-14 in the paint – was more than enough to shut down Kentucky (10-12, 2-8), the last team to defeat the defending national champions at the SEC Tournament last March.

The Wildcats went on top 16-15 after a pair of baskets by Adebola Adeyeye.

That’s when South Carolina, fueled by its bench, took control with a 17-2 run. Ashlyn Watkins had three inside shots and Kamilla Cardoso scored four points during the surge.

The Wildcats used a 13-4 burst to start the third quarter to give South Carolina a few uncomfortable moments. But the Gamecocks got going once more with an 11-0 run to extend their margin.

Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 reserve, had 14 points and five of South Carolina’s 14 blocks. Defensive ace Brea Beal had 10 including both of the Gamecocks’ 3-pointers.

Beal thought the team held together well to blunt Kentucky’s runs and regain control. “I think it’s our mental aspect of the game and us believing in each other,” she said.

Robyn Benton had 24 points to lead Kentucky, which has lost three of its past four games.

Wildcats coach Kyra Elzy said South Carolina is difficult to match up with because of its deep bench. “They have depth after depth after depth,” she said. “They keep coming.”

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are the not the same team that featured two-time SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard the past few seasons. They have 10 newcomers – and six freshmen – who are still learning how to play against the SEC’s top teams like South Carolina.

South Carolina: Forgive the Gamecocks if their focus wasn’t fully on this one at first with a big week ahead. In an eight-game span, South Carolina will face No. 5 UConn and No. 3 LSU, a pair of high-profile games could expose any flaw – or show how powerful the Gamecocks are in chasing a second straight NCAA crown.

UCONN KARMA

South Carolina has opened 22-0 twice under coach Dawn Staley, in 2014-15 and the following year. Both runs ended against UConn. Next up for Gamecocks are the Huskies, although South Carolina has won three of the past four games over UConn including last April’s 64-49 victory to win the NCAA Tournament title.

UP NEXT

Kentucky returns home to face Alabama on Feb. 9.

South Carolina heads to No. 5 UConn on Sunday.

Miles, Citron lead No. 9 Irish past Boston College 72-59

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BOSTON — Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron had already scored 10 straight points to put away Boston College when they turned their attention to other things.

“I told Sonia I needed two more assists for the double-double. And she was like, `All right, I’ve got you,”‘ Miles said after helping No. 9 Notre Dame beat BC 72-59 on Thursday night.

“That’s just kind of our communication on the court,” said Miles, who found Citron for baskets on the next two Irish possessions to complete a 14-0 run – with all 14 points from Miles and Citron. “We just really play off each other really well.

Miles scored 22 points with 10 assists and eight rebounds, and Citron scored 23 for the Irish (18-2, 9-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Maria Gakdeng scored 16 points, T’Yana Todd had 13 and Andrea Daly scored 10 with eight rebounds for BC (14-11, 4-8). The Irish beat BC at home 85-48 on New Year’s Day but hadn’t won in Chestnut Hill since 2019.

“This is such a tough place to play,” said Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey, whose team faces No. 16 Duke next. “We’ll celebrate it until about 12:30, and then we’ve got film. Tomorrow we start focusing on Duke.”

BC came within five points, 55-50, before the Irish ran off 14 points in a row – nine by Citron, and five by Miles. That put an end to what had been a back-and-forth game in which the Irish opened big leads and then frittered them away.

“I always feel like we’re close,” BC coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “They’re young; I think consistency comes with experience.

“I think it’s a big improvement from the first time we played Notre Dame,” she said. “I still want to see more, and I want to see us grow up as fast as humanly possible because I think we do have a dangerous team when we going well.”

Notre Dame led by 11 in the first quarter and held a 38-30 lead with two minutes gone in the third. BC scored 13 of the next 18 points, capitalizing on back-to-back Irish turnovers to tie it 43-all with three minutes left in the quarter.

But Natalija Marshall put back the rebound of her own miss, Miles drove to the basket, Maddy Westbeld added a pair of baskets and then Miles stole the ball and found Citron on the fast break to make it 53-43.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame bounced back from their first league loss of the season, a 69-65 defeat at North Carolina State on Sunday. Now they face No. 16 Duke.

The Eagles, who beat Pittsburgh on Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak, were looking for their second victory over a Top 25 team this season, having also beaten then-No. 10 N.C. State on Jan. 5.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Hosts No. 16 Duke on Sunday.

Boston College: Visits Syracuse on Sunday.