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Ranking College Basketball’s Top Front Courts

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Where it was tough to whittle down the back courts to just 15 teams, for the front lines, it was tougher to find 15 units that we truly thought were potentially dominant. Whether it was a result of a lack of depth or a lack of star power, the back end of this list didn’t feel all that overpowering.

Here are the 15 teams with the best big men:

1. Gonzaga (Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski, Domantas Sabonis)

The Zags ended up winning out on this list for the simple fact that there isn’t another program in the country with three big men that are as good as this trio. Wiltjer is a prototype stretch four with shooting splits that are reminiscent of Doug McDermott. Karnowski is the rim protector, a 7-foot-1 behemoth that has developed a solid offensive repertoire that includes baby hooks and the ability to dive to the rim in ball-screens actions. And Sabonis may actually be the best of the three, a throwback power forward that plays physical, sets hard screens and is always looking to hit the glass.

As a whole, however, I’m personally not sold, although my colleagues don’t necessarily agree with me. I think Wiltjer is a defensive liability and I worry about lineup flexibility; can you get all three on the floor at the same time? Can Sabonis and Karnowski both be on the court without the shooting of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. to spread the floor? If the answer to those questions is yes, than Gonzaga should be a top 15 team. If not, it’s a much different story.

2. North Carolina (Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson, Isaiah Hicks, Joel James, Luke Maye)

When the casual ACC hoops fan thinks of North Carolina basketball, they probably think of an uptempo, run-and-gun team built around Roy Williams’ patented secondary break offense. And while that’s true, the best North Carolina teams have always had a couple of big bodies that commanded double-teams on the block. Sean May turned into Tyler Hansbrough who eventually became Tyler Zeller. None of UNC’s bigs have that kind of lottery pick potential, but Meeks, Johnson and James are all above average post scorers. Hicks struggles with his confidence in games, but he’s routinely one of UNC’s best players in practice. If he can put it together this season, the Tar Heels will reach another level.

3. Kentucky (Skal Labissiere, Isaac Humphries, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress, Derek Willis)

On paper, Kentucky probably has the most raw talent along their front line. The problem is that none of their five players have proven anything at the college level. Lee has been good in flashes but has yet to play extended minutes. Poythress struggled with his position identity before tearing his ACL. Humphries is a freshman that enrolled a year early. Willis has always been projected as an end of the rotation kind of guy. Labissiere has the talent to be the National Player of the Year, but until we see how he transitions to the college level, it’s tough to know whether he’s going to be great or just simply good. The good news? It’s hard to imagine all five failing to live up to their individual potential.

4. Maryland (Robert Carter, Diamond Stone, Damonte Dodd, Michael Cevosky)

I’m probably higher on this Maryland group that anyone mostly because I love the potential of running high-low offense through Diamond Stone and Robert Carter. Stone is the name you know. A 6-foot-10 four man that can play on the perimeter, he’s a top ten recruit and a potential one and done player. But Carter is the guy that has gotten all the hype since practice started. He averaged 11.4 points and 8.4 boards at Georgia Tech before sitting out last season and shedding a good 20 pounds. Dodd and Cevosky are both better than adequate subs as well.

RELATED: Top back courts in college basketball | Top 100 Players

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A.J. Hammons (Getty Images)

5. Purdue (A.J. Hammons, Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan)

Like Gonzaga, I love Purdue’s big men individually even if I don’t love them as a group. Hammons, when he’s dialed in, is one of the best big men in the country. He was, more often than not, dialed in last season. Haas is a 7-foot-2 center that showed tons of promise as a freshman, while Edwards, another sophomore, has a chance to be a star at the three after a very good freshman season. Throw in Biggie Swanigan, a McDonald’s All-American and a terrific low-post scoring threat, and Matt Painter is going to have some legendary battles in practice. But Haas and Hammons can’t play at the same time. Can Purdue function offensively with Swanigan at the four and Hammons or Haas at the five?

6. Baylor (Rico Gathers, Jonathan Motley, Taureen Waller-Prince)

I love this Baylor group. Waller-Prince is as underrated as anyone in the country, Gathers is an absolute bully in the paint and Motley has a chance to be this season’s breakout star in the Big 12. When all three are on the floor together — which is possible given Waller-Prince’s versatility — they’re going to be one of the best rebounding teams in the country. The problem? Depth. If Jo Acuil can’t get cleared (he has a heart issue, as if Baylor hasn’t had enough of those), the Bears will have to rely on Terry Maston, who played 11 games as a freshman.

7. Kansas (Cheick Diallo, Perry Ellis, Hunter Mickelson, Carlton Bragg, Jamari Traylor, Landon Lucas)

It was hard to know what to do with Kansas here. Bragg is promising, Mickelson and Lucas should be serviceable and Ellis should once again put up first-team all-Big 12 caliber numbers. That’s a good front line, but one that should be closer to No. 15 than No. 7. But if Diallo gets eligible, that changes things, as he’s precisely the piece their missing, an athletic, 6-foot-9 four that plays hard, runs the floor, defends and crashes the glass. He’s everything that Cliff Alexander wasn’t last year, and makes Kansas so much better. He’s also not yet cleared to play. So we slotted them here.

8. Utah (Jakob Poeltl, Brekkot Chapman, Jordan Loveridge, Kyle Kuzma, Chris Reyes)

I like the mix that Larry Krystkowiak has at his disposal here. Poeltl is an elite rim protector with a chance at being a lottery pick, Loveridge is a veteran scoring presence that can space the floor and Chapman and Kuzma are talented sophomores with bright futures. Losing Delon Wright is going to hurt the Utes, but the reason they’ll remain in hunt for a Pac-12 title.

9. Vanderbilt (Damian Jones, Luke Kornet, Djery Baptiste, Jeff Roberson, Samir Sehic)

There’s a chance that Vandy’s ranking here could look far too low by the end of the season. We expect Jones to be a star this season, potentially as the best center in all of college basketball. Baptiste and Roberson both look like quality rotation players and Sehic, a freshman, is an undersized four that always seemed to be able to produce regardless of competition at the high school level. Kornet is the x-factor. People around the program expect the 7-foot-1 sharpshooter to have a big season. If he lives up to the hype, the Commodores will be very dangerous.

Damian Jones (AP Photo)
Damian Jones (AP Photo)

10. UNLV (Stephen Zimmerman, Dwayne Morgan, Ben Carter, Goodluck Okonoboh, Derrick Jones)

There is so much talent on this front line. So much. Morgan and Okonoboh were high profile recruits in the Class of 2014, Jones — a freshman — will be the nation’s best dunker this season and Carter was a starter at Oregon. Zimmerman is the best of a bunch, a versatile, 7-foot lefty whose biggest strength is his ability to pass the ball. Can they live up to their potential is the major question mark here.

11. Virginia (Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, Isaiah Wilkins, Jarrod Reuter)

Losing Darion Atkins, who was so, so good for the Cavs on the defensive end of the floor, is a bigger blow than some may realize. But Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey are both above average post scorers and Isaiah Wilkins is an intriguing prospect that had some promising moments last season. As with just about everyone on Tony Bennett’s roster, these guys are better than their numbers will suggest.

12. Arizona (Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson, Mark Tollefsen, Dusan Ristic, Chance Comanche)

Even with Ray Smith done for the year with a torn ACL, the Wildcats deserve a place on this list. That’s what happens when you have this much quality depth. But who is a star in this group? Who scares opposing scouts? Zeus has never lived up to the billing of being a top ten prospect, scouts love Ristic but he has yet to beat out Zeus, Comanche is a freshman that needs a year or two and Tollefson is a transfer from San Francisco. Anderson, who averaged 14.3 points and 7.3 boards at BC, is the best of the bunch on paper, but he lacks explosiveness and is coming off of a redshirt season. He’s the x-factor in this equation.

13. Iowa State (Georges Niang, Jameel McKay, Simeon Carter)

Niang is the single-toughest cover in all of college basketball. A 6-foot-8 power forward, he’s so skilled: he can beat you in the post, he can beat you to the rim from the perimeter, he can pass, he can shoot, he can dribble. He’s a stud. McKay is the perfect compliment, a 6-foot-9 shot-blocker and offensive rebounder. But after those two, there really isn’t much of note in ISU’s front court.

14. LSU (Ben Simmons, Craig Victor, Elbert Robinson, Aaron Epps, Brian Bridgewater)

Simmons is going to be must-see TV every time he plays as a freshman. He’s a 6-foot-9 point forward with handle, an innate passing ability and a flair for making highlight reel plays. He’ll notch multiple triple-doubles this season. But where is his front court support? Craig Victor is the most talented of the bunch, but left Arizona because he couldn’t crack the rotation.

15. San Diego State (Malik Pope, Skylar Spencer, Zylan Cheatham, Angelo Chol)

This ranking is based on the assumption that Malik Pope lives up to his potential. He’s got the talent of a lottery pick and the consistentcy — and the health — of a four-year Mountain West big man. Spencer is a shot-blocker extraordinaire, Chol is an above-average high major big man and Cheatham has plenty of promise, but if Pope doesn’t play his way into being a first round pick, this rank will look silly in March.

Others considered: Texas A&M, Cal, Marquette, Wake Forest, Cincinnati, Duke

CBT Podcast: ESPN’s Myron Medcalf on Jahvon Quinerly, Quade Green, Kentucky

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Rob Dauster was joined by Myron Medcalf from ESPN.com on Friday morning to talk through all of the week’s biggest college basketball stories, from Jahvon Quinerly and the fake Instagram hack to Quade Green’s transfer to whether or not Kentucky can still recruit basketball players that matter.

No. 16 Wisconsin overwhelms Savannah State 101-60

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Brad Davison scored a season-high 24 points and No. 16 Wisconsin had a school-record 69 first-half points to overwhelm Savannah State 101-60 on Thursday night.

Davison was 6 of 9 from 3-point range. Preseason All-American Ethan Happ had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and freshman Tai Strickland added a career-high 14 points for Wisconsin (9-2).

The Badgers shot 71 percent in the first half to take a 69-32 lead in their first 100-point game since 2013. Savannah State (3-9) is the only team in Division I allowing 100 points a game.

Jaquan Dotson had 20 points to lead the Tigers, a team that likes to shoot 3s. Second in the NCAAs in hitting 13 3s a game, Savannah State managed to shoot 11 of 39 (28 percent) from the arc at the Kohl Center.

Wisconsin put on a first-half clinic, hitting 24 of 34 from the field, including 69 percent (11 of 16) from 3-point range.

Strickland’s night exemplified the Badgers’ early fortune after two of his three 3s banked off the backboard.

It was just the kind of breather that Wisconsin needed after 74-69 loss in overtime last week to in-state rival Marquette.

This game was decided in a hurry, especially with the way that Savannah State liked to run and put up deep 3s

At one point, Davison was trapped in the corner in the frontcourt by two defenders before jumping and slinging a pass to Kobe King at the opposite wing. King hit a bucket and drew a foul for a 39-20 lead with 9:25 left in the first.

Later, Wisconsin’s Charles Thomas blocked Romani Hansen’s layup attempt from behind. At the other end, D’Mitrik Trice punctured the undersized Tigers’ zone with a diagonal pass to a cutting Davison for an easy layup and 21-point lead with 8:13 left in the first.

TIP INS

Savannah State: In the middle of a 12-game trip, coach Horace Broadnax dressed just eight players. Their tallest player is 6-foot-8 Romani Hansen, but 6-6 guard Adam Saeed faced the 6-10 Happ for the opening tip. Allowing foes to shoot 50 percent on the season, the Tigers were routed, as expected. They were also outrebounded 45-20.

Wisconsin: F Khalil Iverson sat out with a lower left foot injury. Coach Greg Gard didn’t really need one of his best defenders anyway. … The 11 3s in the opening 20 minutes were a school record for a first half. …. Wisconsin finished the night shooting 47 percent.

UP NEXT

Savannah State: At Tennessee Tech on Dec. 20.

Wisconsin: Hosts Grambling on Dec. 22.

Freshman Luguentz Dort shining for No. 20 Arizona State

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Luguentz Dort is a freshman in name and age only.

At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, he’s built like linebacker on the Arizona State football team, not some scrawny teenager disdainfully bumped out of the lane on a basketball court.

The Sun Devils’ 19-year-old guard is supremely confident and has already taken on a leadership role on a team filled with older players, like he’s been in Tempe all along,

Dort’s default is to play with aggression, attack at all times without concern, not look to the bench for coaches’ approval every time he makes a mistake.

“He doesn’t play like a freshman,” Arizona State junior guard Rob Edwards said. “And he’s certainly not built like one.”

Duke’s trio of NBA lottery picks garnered most of the freshman attention heading into the 2018-19 season, with players like North Carolina’s Nassir Little, Oregon’s Bol Bol and Indiana’s Romeo Langford also mentioned well ahead of Dort.

Through No. 20 Arizona State’s first eight games, Dort has proven he belongs in the elite freshmen spotlight and, possibly, on a much bigger stage beyond his college playing days.

Dort fired out of the gate in his first game, overcoming some early jitters to score 28 points against Cal State Fullerton, an Arizona State freshman debut record.

Able to initiate contact in the lane or shoot from the perimeter, he leads the Sun Devils (7-1) with 22 points per game on a team full of capable scorers, including 33 against Utah State, and is second on the Sun Devils with 6.3 rebounds as a guard.

When point guard Remy Martin went out with an injury — along with Edwards and forward Mickey Mitchell — Dort adeptly took over primary show-running duties. Known for his defensive aggressiveness before arriving in Tempe, Dort has lived up to those expectations, leading the Sun Devils with 16 steals and in frustrating opposing guard.

“As soon as he got here in our workouts, he got the players’ respect,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “We knew what we had. I kind of knew before he got here, but he validated that real quick.”

Dort’s parents were born in Haiti and moved to Montreal when they were 21. He’s been to Haiti once, though he doesn’t remember much, outside of being scared, because he was so young.

Dort hears from Haitians on social media and someday plans to visit his parents’ homeland.

“I want to go there so bad. I just need to find the time in the summer or whenever,” he said. “I’m proud to say I’m Haitian Canadian.”

Dort’s sport early on was soccer and he was good at it — first as a goalie, then as a midfielder — but he was the only kid among his friends playing it. They played basketball and convinced Dort to start playing with them.

Wise move.

Dort took to basketball quickly and later started getting the attention of American coaches while playing on the AAU circuit.

Wanting to broaden his game and his almost non-existent English-speaking skills, Dort made the difficult decision to play high school ball in the United States. Turned down by one team, he ended up at Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville, Florida, his sophomore year in high school.

It was not an easy transition.

“I was sad when I left home and couldn’t really speak English,” Dort said. “I was lonely at first.”

Dort’s transition to American life was made easier by a group of French speakers in Jacksonville and the next year he moved to Orlando, playing at Conrad Academy. Wanting to spend his senior season back in Canada, Dort returned home and played at the Athlete Institute in Ontario, where he garnered attention from major U.S. colleges like Oregon, Baylor, Indiana, Michigan State, Miami and Arizona State.

He chose the Sun Devils and Hurley. Dort liked the campus and the players, the direction of the Arizona State program and Hurley’s pitch to help him transform from shooting to point guard.

Dort’s best chances for playing professionally are as a point guard and who better to learn from than Hurley, a two-time national champion at Duke and former NBA point guard.

“He was one of the coaches who really put in my head that I could be a professional player one day,” Dort said. “He told me what I needed to do to get better and get ready for the next level. That’s something I really fell in love with.”

It’s worked out so far and Sun Devil fans have quickly fallen in love with the bruising-but-athletic freshman guard.

Kevin Durant: Zion Williamson is a “once-in-a-generation athlete”

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Count Kevin Durant as a fan of Zion Williamson.

The former MVP and Golden State star was plenty complimentary of the Duke standout freshman while making an appearance on making an appearance on The Bill Simmons podcast.

“I believe he’s special,” Durant said. “He’s a once-in-a generation-athlete. I’ve never seen somebody like that before.

“Zion WIlliamson, I’ve never seen somebody that’s lefty that can dunk with this right hand like that and cock the ball back so far and jump so high off two feet. I’ve seen people jump high, but not that way.”

Durant certainly has an opinion worth listening to when it comes to once-in-a-generation athletes as one himself. He’s a 7-footer (despite being listed at 6-foot-9) that has shot 38.3 percent from 3 for a career and has one 50/40/90 season under his belt. He’s already a sure-fire Hall of Famer though he just turned 30 years old a couple months ago. His size, athleticism and shooting is a paradigm shift in what’s possible on a basketball court. He also had a transcendent freshman season at Texas, though he didn’t have the supporting cast that Williamson is working currently with at Duke. Just like Durant became appointment television while with the Longhorns, Williamson is becoming in what is assuredly his only season with the Blue Devils before he becomes a top-five NBA draft pick.

If Durant is wowed by Williamson’s athleticism, that is a major statement.

Williamson, at 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, has few workable comparisons given his size and athleticism as well. He is, simply, unique. He’s also averaging 20 points and 9 rebounds per game for the Blue Devils, who are 9-1 and ranked No. 2 in the country.

“He knows he’s a beast,” Durant said of Williamson.

 

Film Room: Why is Jahvon Quinerly struggling to get minutes for Villanova?

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After losing to Penn on Tuesday night, snapping a streak of 25 consecutive wins against Big 5 opponents, Villanova — winners of two of the last three national titles — fell to 8-3 on the season with a trip to Phog Allen Fieldhouse coming up on Saturday.

Penn was the second mid-major opponent that Villanova has lost to this season. They fell at home against Furman in overtime. That came just days after they were absolutely humiliated by Michigan in a national title game rematch as they unveiled the newly-renovated Finneran Pavilion.

And while there is plenty to discuss about how and why the Wildcats are now in the midst of what could end up being their worst season since missing the 2012 NCAA tournament, the major talking point for this team has become Jahvon Quinerly. Through the first month of the season, the No. 29 prospect in the Class of 2018 has been easily the most ineffective freshman ranked in the top 30 of the class that is healthy and in school. Ranked between potential lottery picks Kevin Porter Jr. and Luguentz Dort, according to 247 Sports, Quinerly has taken three DNP-CDs through 11 games. The only reason he’s in the box score as logging one minutes in the loss to Penn is because Collin Gillespie fouled out with six seconds left; Quinerly didn’t even play the entirety of the last six seconds. He played two minutes against La Salle. He played three minutes against Oklahoma State. He hasn’t played more than eight minutes in a game that didn’t come against totally overmatched competition.

As you can imagine, it’s been frustrating.

After the loss to Penn, Quinerly hopped on Instagram and posted on his story a black screen with white lettering that read “Was my 2nd choice for a reason;” if you recall, he was initially committed to Arizona before the FBI investigation into corruption in college hoops uncovered information that former Arizona assistant Book Richardson may have funneled as much as $20,000 to Quinerly’s family. Quinerly quickly deleted the post before attempting to make it seem as if his account had been hacked. A friend of his from New Jersey, LSU freshman Naz Reid, even tweeted that Quinerly had been hacked.

Turns out, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Quinerly was not hacked. He just was frustrated about the way the start of his Villanova career has gone and said something on social media that he shouldn’t have said. Villanova head coach Jay Wright said that this was just “the normal frustration of a young kid that’s used to playing a lot, and not playing” and that Quinerly had already apologized to the team. He issued a statement on Thursday on his twitter account apologizing as well.

The story of a frustrated freshman popping off on Instagram isn’t all that interesting to me. Neither is the speculation that this could lead to Quinerly transferring out of the program; I don’t see it happening during the season, and if it happens in the offseason we can talk about it then and there.

What’s more interesting to me is the why: Why has Quinerly been limited to 69 minutes on the season? Why hasn’t he earned Jay Wright’s trust? Why has Wright opted to go with Gillespie who, as one scout put it to me earlier this year, is “playing above his level”?

It starts with the defensive side of the ball.

What Villanova wants to do defensively is not easy for freshmen to pick up. They’re not strictly a man-to-man team, but when they play man, they rarely do it without a lot of switching. They’ll mix in some zone and some 1-2-2 pressure as well, and that often results in players being forced into guarding mismatches.

I cannot speak to what happens in practice. The word coming out of the program is that Quinerly “worked hard” and “continues to work” and is “a great teammate”, which is exactly what you would expect to hear a head coach say about his five-star freshman.

I can, however, see what happens when Quinerly is on the floor during games. I watched every minute that he has played this season, and this is what I am seeing.

The biggest reason that Quinerly has been forced to the bench is that he has had some real issues defensively.

He’s not identifying who he is supposed to be guarding in transition. He’s falling asleep when he is supposed to be boxing out. He simply isn’t strong or good enough as an individual defender to handle the assignments he’s been given — in the last clip you see him getting easily beaten off the dribble. To his credit, it doesn’t appear to be an effort issue as much as a ‘he’s not quite ready’ issue.

The biggest cause for alarm here is the third clip below.

This isn’t a complicated action that Michigan is running, as Zavier Simpson cuts between Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers right before Livers sets a ball-screen for Poole:

When Livers sets the screen, Quinerly should switch onto the bigger defender as Saddiq Bey, another freshman, switches onto Poole. But Quinerly gets confused and goes to guard Simpson, leaving Livers a free run to the rim:

Joe Cremo is forced to rotate over to help, and actually forces a miss at the rim, but Quinerly falls asleep, doesn’t box out Charles Matthews and watches as the Michigan star throws down a monster dunk:

You can see the entire play below:

Quinerly was never going to come into the program and be the best on-ball defender on the roster. We knew that. The problem is simply that he has not been good enough offensively to justify putting him on the floor when he’s a defensive liability. Trae Young couldn’t guard a mailbox last season, but Oklahoma had to have him on the floor because of how good he made them offensively. Ashton Hagans has been a mess offensively through the first month of the season, but Kentucky has been giving him Quade Green’s minutes because he is just so good on the defensive side of the ball.

Quinerly?

He has all of these issues defensively, and on the season he is averaging just 2.4 points with eight assists to 11 turnovers while shooting 26.9 percent from the floor and 17.6 percent from three. Yes, some of that is a result of the fact that he’s been strapped to the bench and unable to develop any kind of rhythm or confidence. I get that. But he also hasn’t quite learned, or bought into, the principles and concepts that Jay Wright drills his players on.

I’ve written long and detailed stories on Villanova’s offense twice in the last year, but the tl;dr version is this: Villanova doesn’t run plays, they teach concepts and reads and develop the kids in their program as basketball players that can function in any environment more than turning them into robots that run set after set after set. It’s takes every freshman time to learn these things. There’s a reason that Villanova has so many redshirts.

Here’s an example: One of the core principles of Villanova’s offense is the jump-stop. It sounds simple, but it’s true. Wright wants his guys to get into the paint, come to a jump-stop and then see what opens up. Maybe they’ll have a layup. Maybe they’ll have room to get a floater off. Maybe they pivot a couple of times before finding an open shooter. Maybe those pivots will create enough space for a turnaround jumper. Half Court Hoops put together an entire video package on this last year.

Quinerly, far too often, has his drives to the paint end like this:

I think Quinerly is going to be fine.

The talent is there. He was never going to be a one-and-done point guard — I’m not sure he is an NBA player, period — but he is good enough to be a really good guard at the college level. He’s also not the only freshman struggling to acclimate on this Villanova roster. Cole Swider, a top 40 recruit, is averaging less than 12 minutes. Brandon Slater, a top 75 prospect, has played just 26 minutes in six games.

But Quinerly is the five-star with all the hype.

He’s Jelly-Fam. He’s the one that Book Richardson tried to buy, according to the FBI.

That brings with it expectation, and when you fail to live up to that expectations, people talk, especially if your failure is spotlighted by a fake Instagram hack.

Quinerly is in a tough spot. You can’t hide a point guard offensively. When you make a mistake with the ball in your hands, everyone knows it. If Swider makes a mistake off the ball, no one outside of the coaching staff notices. And unlike Swider, Quinerly doesn’t have physical tools that can help make up for the times the ends up out of position defensively.

He’ll get there soon enough, but until he’s good enough offensively to make himself a net-positive, or until he figures out what he’s doing defensively, it’s going to be a struggle to take minutes from Gillispie, a veteran that Wright trusts.