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

1 Comment
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.”

Four-star 2019 forward flips commitment from Big Ten to SEC program

Jon Lopez/Nike
Leave a comment

Four-star 2019 forward Tray Jackson flipped his verbal commitment from Minnesota to Missouri on Friday night.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decommitment from the Golden Gophers on Twitter and then announced a commitment to Missouri a little more than two hours later. Regarded as the No. 96 overall prospect in the Class of 2019, Jackson reclassified from the Class of 2018 and saw his recruitment blossom in the summer.

While decommitting happens in basketball recruiting semi-frequently, flipping a commitment to a new school within a matter of hours is a very uncommon practice. Typically associated with football recruiting, Jackson’s switch is a big deal for Missouri.

His pledge gives head coach Cuonzo Martin an athletic and versatile frontcourt player with upside as Jackson could play multiple positions. The Tigers missed on E.J. Liddell, but Jackson is a nice prize to land instead. Missouri now has two four-star prospects in the Class of 2019 as Jackson joins four-star guard Mario McKinney.

Minnesota needs to replenish its recruiting efforts as they are now without a commitment in the Class of 2019. With head coach Richard Pitino facing pressure to win this season, this isn’t good for the future of Golden Gopher basketball either.

West Virginia lands five-star 2019 center Oscar Tshiebwe

Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Virginia pulled in a major commitment on Saturday as five-star 2019 center Oscar Tshiebwe pledged to the Mountaineers.

A late-developing, high-motor big man who ascended into a national recruit this summer, the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Tshiebwe represents an important grab for West Virginia. Tshiebwe represents a potential replacement for Sagaba Konate in the middle as the Mountaineers beat some pretty impressive programs to land him. That includes Baylor and Kentucky.

Tshiebwe is quick off the floor and a good athlete, as he could be a very dangerous player in Bob Huggins’ system because of his brand of basketball. Regarded as the No. 21 overall prospect in the Rivals Class of 2019 national rankings, Tshiebwe also took official visits to Baylor, Illinois and Kentucky during the recruiting process.

Tshiebwe joins three-star guard Miles McBride in West Virginia’s 2019 recruiting haul.

VIDEO: Marshall’s Taevion Kinsey easily clears three teammates on ridiculous dunk

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Marshall freshman Taevion Kinsey put down one of the preseason’s best dunks on Friday night. With the Thundering Herd hosting Herd Madness, the 6-foot-5 Kinsey put down a ridiculous dunk that easily cleared three teammates.

Most dunkers use an arm on the shoulder during the dunk. Kinsey didn’t need any sort of help as he glided over his teammates.

Kinsey is going to be a dunker to keep an eye on in the future. His teammates certainly think highly of his dunking ability, as most of them projected Kinsey to win the dunk contest before the event even started.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson impresses Duke fans in Cameron Indoor debut, downplays link to trial

Duke Men's Basketball
1 Comment

Duke freshman Zion Williamson made some ridiculous dunks look effortless in his Cameron Indoor Stadium debut on Friday night. As part of Duke’s annual “Countdown to Craziness” event, Williamson took part in a scrimmage against his Blue Devil teammates.

That included Williamson going head-to-head with fellow freshman R.J. Barrett in a scrimmage. And more absurd dunks in the warm up line.

But besides for the on-court action, Williamson was also asked about his family’s link to the college basketball corruption trial. On Tuesday, a transcript of calls was read to the New York courtroom that allegedly included Williamson’s stepfather on FBI tapes asking for money and a job from Kansas men’s basketball coaches. The tapes were not admitted as evidence.

“Honestly, I’ve paid no attention to it,” Williamson said to reporters, including ESPN’s David M. Hale, about the trial. “I’m just a college kid, out here having fun with my classmates, looking forward to stuff like Countdown and our first game. You only get one chance at the college experience, and I want to enjoy it.”

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski also downplayed Williamson’s link to the trial, pointing to the NCAA eligibility center’s “exhaustive” process to vette incoming recruits.

“They have an eligibility center now that these kids and their parents go through — and they go through everything,” Krzyzewski said. “We feel very comfortable with him and all our freshmen.”

We’ll likely hear more about Williamson, Kansas and this trial, as time goes on. Williamson also might legitimately not know much about this if it was his stepfather on the call. For now, Williamson is making a huge impression with Duke fans every time he steps foot on the floor.

(H/t: Lawrence Davis III and Duke men’s basketball)

Louisville lands commitment from Irish basketball star

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
2 Comments

For the sixth time since Chris Mack took over the Louisville program, the new Cardinal head coach has landed a commitment from a member of the Class of 2019.

On Friday, it was Aidon Igiehon, a top 50 recruit, that announced he will be playing his college basketball for the Cardinals.

He followed in the footsteps of fellow four-stars Samuell Williamson, David Johnson, Jaelyn Withers and Josh nickelberry, not to mention three-star forward Quinn Slazinski.

And all this has happened over the course of the last five months.

Mack got the job in April, after he finished his final run with a Xavier program that he had been in charge of for the last nine years. That came just six months after Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino was fired for a series of scandals that had enveloped the university in the last few years, not the least of which was their involvement with the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball.

That may be the most impressive part of all of this.

No one really knows what is going to happen with Louisville and the NCAA as a result of the way that they were able to entice Brian Bowen on campus. What we do know is that while Louisville was on probation due to the fact that a member of their coaching staff was paying for strippers and sex workers for players and recruits, an agreement was made for Adidas to pay the family of Brian Bowen $100,000 to get him to enroll at Louisville. Bowen’s father said under oath that, in addition to that money, he also accepted at least one $1,300 payment from former Louisville assistant Kenny Johnson.

Those are NCAA violations committed while the program was on probation.

And those are the kind of things that the NCAA does not take lightly.

Everyone involved with the reason that Louisville was on probation and that actually committed those violations has moved on, but that hasn’t stopped speculation that the Cardinals could be facing even more punishment from the NCAA, which is what has made this recruiting job by Mack so impressive.

He’s filled up an entire class of prospects before he’s even coached a game for the program all while this nonsense is swirling around his program.

Was there ever any doubt that the Cardinals hired the right guy?