USA Basketball

Four Storylines: USA Basketball U18 Team at FIBA Americas

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The USA Basketball U18 team begins play this week as FIBA Americas tips off in Canada.

The heavy favorites to capture a gold medal in the age group, the Americans started training camp in Colorado Springs last week as I watched some of the early sessions of practice to get a feel for how the group might look in the event.

Here’s some takeaways, and storylines, to follow over the next week at FIBA Americas as the Bill Self-coached outfit features a combination of incoming college freshmen and rising high school seniors.

1. Who becomes the team’s leader and go-to player?

One of the fascinating things to watch about this U18 tryout was the lack of a clear go-to player. Two years ago for the U18 team, this was no such issue. That group featured Michael Porter Jr., Markelle Fultz and Trae Young (to name a few off of a loaded team).

But this current U18 group is a byproduct of two down years in a row when it comes to national recruiting classes. The Class of 2018 and 2019 are two of the worst back-to-back years we’ve seen in quite some time when it comes to actual star power.

So finding a leader and a go-to guy is going to be one of this team’s main goals in the early going. It might not come down to one player. The perimeter trio of Cole Anthony, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White all had strong stretches playing together during tryouts and all three showed leadership capabilities and strong abilities to score.

Kentucky commit Tyrese Maxey also falls into this category. He’s a charismatic lead guard who can really score, which means he might also take on the role of a go-to player.

It’s not as if the USA team has to have one go-to guy like this to win the gold medal. But it would certainly help in close-game situations if they knew they could turn to one particular player (or group of players) that can produce.

2. The team’s perimeter shooting — particularly Ayo Dosunmu and Quentin Grimes

Perimeter shooting will also be a significant development with this team, most notably with a couple of college-bound guards who have been inconsistent from the three-point line in the past. Also, keep in mind that FIBA rules are in play here, which means a different ball and an expanded three-point line from the college level — yet another reason why college hoops needs to expand the three-point line closer further from the basketball.

One of the intriguing storylines will involve Illinois commit Ayo Dosunmu and his re-worked perimeter jumper. A known scorer who was always streaky with his jumper in the past, Dosunmu has completely overhauled his shot since the end of March and the high school season. Now sporting a full follow through and a higher release, Dosunmu’s jumper looked way better than before as it’s a skill that has given him added confidence as a scorer. With Illinois counting on its highest-rated recruit so much for the upcoming 2018-19 season, if Dosunmu has a decent perimeter jumper, it could make him one the Big Ten’s most dangerous threats.

Future Kansas Jayhawk Quentin Grimes is another perimeter player to watch when it comes to shooting. The U18 team is a fascinating parallel to how Grimes could be used next season as Bill Self will be coaching both teams. Grimes is probably best suited to have the ball in his hands as an attacking guard, but with other steady floor generals like Anthony and Maxey on the U18 team, he could be relegated to playing mostly off the ball. Since Kansas has Charlie Moore and Devon Dotson on the smaller side of Grimes in next year’s guard rotation, Grimes might also be forced more off the ball at Kansas next season. So how will Grimes look as a catch-and-shoot option? Like Dosunmu, Grimes has been streaky with his jumper in the past.

The USA doesn’t need Dosunmu and Grimes to make perimeter jumpers in order to win. Anthony, Maxey and fellow Class of 2019 guard Mark “Rocket” Watts Jr. were three of the most prolific perimeter shooters in the Nike EYBL this spring. But Dosunmu and Grimes knocking down open shots could go a long way towards the team’s ultimate success.

3. The role of Coby White

One of the better and more consistent players during training camp was North Carolina commit and guard Coby White. An advanced scorer from multiple levels, White had it going with the perimeter jumper at times during camp as he nailed catch-and-shoot jumpers and jumpers off the bounce.

As noted earlier, there are plenty of really talented guards already playing with the U18 team, so White likely doesn’t need to play on the ball and be a facilitator. But that’s the thing North Carolina fans should probably be watching for during FIBA Americas. Somebody has to replace Joel Berry’s massive presence in the Tar Heel backcourt for next season. White looks like a prime candidate to potentially do so.

The problem lies in White’s DNA as a natural scorer. Since he’s never asked to be a true facilitator, White is learning the nuances of the point guard spot while still trying to keep his offensive aggression as a shooter.

There were some promising signs of lead guard development from White at USA. White showed a strong ability to read ball screens, changing paces and navigating into the paint whenever he felt like it. Also making basic reads and some solid one-handed passes to corner shooters, White appears to be improving at the basic functions of being a facilitator.

Finding that balance between running a team and hunting his own offense will be something to track with the U18 team because White will likely have to do the same at North Carolina. The Tar Heels will have a strong frontcourt featuring Luke Maye and fellow five-star freshman Nassir Little. Upperclass perimeter options like Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams are back as well. White will be asked to score next season, but more importantly, he’ll also need to set the table for those others to get involved as well.

4. Which big men will step up and see heavy minutes?

It should come as no surprise that this USA U18 team is a guard-driven outfit. But that doesn’t mean the big men should be ignored in this equation. While small-ball and floor-spacing lineups are the popular thing coming into American basketball at all levels, there is still a need for true big men and a rotation of frontcourt players.

Among the group’s frontcourt players, Texas commit Kamaka Hepa could be perhaps the team’s best interior defender for this event because of his advanced feel, communication skills and versatility. Others in the group could eventually be better than Hepa, but his enthusiasm for smothering ball screens and recovering back to the post was unmatched at the camp.

The Class of 2019 duo of Armando Bacot and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was also really good during camp as the duo compliments each other pretty well. Bacot is more of an old-school, ground-game big man who isn’t an elite athlete, but he has great hands and feel as he’s a natural double-double threat at the college level. Although a tad undersized as a combo forward, the 6-foot-8 Robinson-Earl makes up for it with great first and secondary leaping ability that enables him to be a demon on the glass.

Tracye Jackson-Davis was also active on the glass and defending on the interior as he’s continuing to blossom this spring. And Matthew Hurt provides a skill element the frontcourt is lacking with his floor-spacing and passing abilities.

Again, this team’s success will be driven by guard play, as Self will likely incorporate two, three or even four-guard lineups with the amount of perimeter talent he has at his disposal. But the big men will need to play a part in capturing a gold medal as well. Seeing how Self uses his lineups will be a huge part in determining which big men will shine.

Careers of all-time great scorers Mike Daum and Chris Clemons come to a close

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The spots for Mike Daum and Chris Clemons in the NCAA record book are now in place.

Both players’ teams lost in NIT openers on Tuesday, with Clemons and Campbell falling to UNC Greensboro, 84-69, while Daum’s Jackrabbits lost at Texas, 79-73.

Clemons finishes third all-time in scoring with 3,225 career points while Daum slots in at sixth with 3,067. Doug McDermott (3,150) and Alphonso Ford (3,165) separate them in fifth and fourth, respectively. LSU great Pete Maravich is first with 3,667.

Daum came to the Jackrabbits as a no-name recruit out of Kimball, Neb. that would ultimately redshirt his first year on campus. He went on to score 518 points as a freshman in the only season he failed top 800. He played in three NCAA tournaments with the Jackrabbits, who lost in the first round of the Summit League tournament as a one-seed, a fate Daum knew was a possibility when he opted not to graduate transfer out of Brookings this past spring. Daum scored 25 in his final game.

Clemons, a North Carolina native, scored at least 1,200 as both a sophomore and a senior, averaging 30 per game during his final collegiate season and nearly 25 for his career, which never featured an NCAA tournament appearance. In his last game, Clemons went out scoring, putting 32 on Greensboro.

Both players spent their careers in relative anonymity at mid-majors, but their legacies will loom large for years to come as two of the most prolific scorers the college game has seen.

Belmont pulls away in second half to beat Temple

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Rick Byrd is on the board.

The Belmont coach, in his 33rd years with the Bruins, has his first NCAA tournament win.

Belmont is moving on after defeating Temple, 81-70, on Tuesday in the First Four, notching that first tournament victory against another coaching fixture, Fran Dunphy, in the latter’s final game with the Owls.

Temple led by as many as five in the second half after erasing an 11-point deficit, but Belmont ripped off a 16-3 run to take an eight-point advantage with under 7 minutes to play that would prove more than enough to move on to the Round of 64.

Temple shot 39.4 percent from the floor and 31.8 percent on 22 attempts from 3-point range while committing 11 turnovers as Dunphy’s accomplished career came to a close in Dayton.

Dunphy is a Big 5 lifer. He played at La Salle, coached at Penn for 17 years and then took over the Temple program in 2006. He finished with 580 career wins in 30 years as a head coach. Assistant Aaron McKie is set to take over the Owls job in Dunphy’s stead in a move that was announced last offseason.

Shizz Alson, Jr. scored a team-high 21 points for the Owls, who finish the season 23-10.

Belmont shot at a blistering 52.8 percent from the floor and got 29 points from Kevin McClain on 8 of 14 shooting that included four triples.  Nick Muszynski, returning from injury, had 16 points (making 8 of 12 shots) along with four rebounds, three assists and two blocks.

The Bruins will now fly south to Jacksonville, where Maryland, a six seed, awaits them for a Thursday tip in the first round of the South region. The Terps went 22-10 and finished fifth in the Big Ten with a 13-7 conference mark. Belmont went 1-1 this season against Power 5 opponents with a win at UCLA and a loss in West Lafayette against Purdue in December.

Fairleigh Dickinson comes from behind for First Four victory

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The first game of the NCAA tournament provided the event’s customary drama.

Fairleigh Dickinson came from 13 down to defeat Prairie View, 82-76, on Tuesday night at the First Four in Dayton to join the rest of the field later this week with a matchup against the West regional’s No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Thursday.

Prairie View built an early double-digit lead thanks to a monster first-half effort from 3-point range in which they connected on eight of 12 shots from distance while also collecting six offensive rebounds. Fairleigh Dickinson, though was able to halve the deficit in time for half to go into the locker room down just seven.

The Panthers once again pushed their lead to 13 in the second half’s opening minutes, but Knights tied the game with 7:33 left and subsequently took the lead only to give it back to Prairie View. The Knights, though, wrestled the lead back on a 3-pointer from Jahlil Jenkins that kickstarted an 8-0 run that put Fairleigh Dickson up six. Prairie View cut the lead to two in the final minute but couldn’t close the gap.

Darnell Edge scored 33 to lead the lights while Jenkins had 22. Gary Blackston had 26 for the Panthers.

Fairleigh Dickinson shot 54.5 percent from the field for the game after converting at a 68 percent clip after halftime to win the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament game.

The Knights will now have to jet west to take on Gonzaga (30-3) in Salt Lake City on Thursday. The Zags figure to be huge favorites but just a year removed from UMBC upending Virginia, 16 seeds will likely be imbued with an extra dose of confidence this March.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Kansas State’s Dean Wade doubtful for tourney

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Kansas State is going to have difficult replicating its NCAA tournament success from a year ago. Unless it can once again survive the loss of its marquee forward.

Dean Wade, the Wildcats’ top player and Big 12 preseason player of the year, is unlikely to play in the tournament due to a lingering foot injury, coach Bruce Weber said Tuesday evening, per Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star.

The Wildcats, a four seed, are slated to meet UC Irvine on Friday in San Jose.

Injuries have cost Wade, who played minimally in K-State Elite Eight run last year because of injury, much of his senior season as it sidelined him for six games starting in December and carrying on into Big 12 play. He then aggravated the injury Feb. 16 in a home loss to Iowa State, but returned to beat Baylor. He did not miss any additional time during the regular season as the Wildcats tied for the Big 12 championship with Texas Tech as Kansas was shutout from a league title for the first time in 14 years.

The injury, though, forced Wade out of both Kansas State’s Big 12 tournament games, including a semifinal loss to eventual champion Iowa State.

“We’ve grown. We went through it, been through it without Dean, which is always tough,” Weber said after the loss to the Cyclones last weekend. “But we survived and advanced last year and we were able to get some experience under our belt. Obviously, it’s not last year. It’s going to be different teams. The ball is going to bounce different. The shots are going to fall different, but it gives us the self-confidence that it’s able to be done.”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game this season while shooting 49.8 percent from the floor.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Which high seeds are on upset watch?

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The best part about the NCAA tournaments are the upsets.

It’s the thrill of seeing the team that you — and nobody else — picked to win knock off one of the big boys, especially when it comes courtesy of a buzzer-beater.

Here at College Basketball Talk, we like to inform you of the upsets before they happen.

So we guarantee that these six lower-seeded teams will win these games.

No. 14 YALE over No. 3 LSU, Thu. 12:40 p.m.

I am all in on the Elis taking down the Tigers on Thursday afternoon.

The biggest reason for this is that LSU is playing without their head coach. Will Wade has been held out by LSU after he refused to speak with the administration following the reports that he was caught on a wiretap by the FBI discussing a payment for a player. That’s big, because Wade is a terrific coach that is terrific when it comes to make in-game adjustments, and I do think there is something to the idea of substitute teacher syndrome setting in.

But beyond that, I just believe in this Yale team. They got dudes. Miye Oni is going to be an NBA draft pick, potentially a first rounder, as a 6-foot-6 combo-guard. Jordan Bruner is a do-it-all, 6-foot-9 forward that should be playing in the SEC, not the Ivy League. Alex Copeland proved that he can take a game over at the point. I also think it’s important to note that LSU does a lot of their damage on the offensive glass, and while Yale is going to be physically outmatched against LSU, they are top 25 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.

There’s talent on Yale, they matchup well with LSU and the Tigers will be missing their coach. I like it when the dots connect.

No. 12 OREGON vs. No. 5 WISCONSIN, Fri. 4:30 p.m.

There may not be a hotter team in the country right now than Oregon, who rolled through the end of the Pac-12 season before winning the Pac-12 tournament, beating Washington in impressive fashion twice in the process. The question is going to be how Wisconsin goes about breaking down Oregon’s zone, and while I do think that Ethan Happ can really pick it apart, it is important to note that the Ducks will be running out Kenny Wooten. He is as good of a defender as there is in the paint, and I would not be surprised to see him slow Happ down. Also worth noting: The line is this game has moved from Wisconsin (-4) to Wisconsin (-1).

No. 13 UC IRVINE vs. No. 4 KANSAS STATE, Fri. 2:00 p.m.

This changes if Dean Wade plays, but without Dean Wade on the floor, Kansas State is a team that is going to rely on penetration and the ability of their guards to get into the paint. The problem with that is that UC Irvine is a really good defensive team that is built around the concept of forcing teams to drive and finish around the rim, where they do have some size and talented shot-blockers. The Anteaters are really, really good and might be underseeded as a No. 13, and with the Wildcats banged up, this is a matchup that Russell Turner can get the best of.

No. 13 NORTHEASTERN vs. No. 4 KANSAS, Fri. 4:00 p.m.

Kansas is not the Kansas we are used to seeing. They start four freshmen this year, and while two of them are five-star — one of whom has not exactly played like a five-star this year — the other two are the Jayhawks third-string center and a guy that was supposed to redshirt this season. I also think Kansas is overseeded relative to the team they have now based on some non-conference wins they earned with Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick healthy.

Northeastern is a really, really well-coached team that doesn’t beat themselves. They don’t turn the ball over, they shoot it well from three, they control tempo, they don’t give up second chance points and they have a couple of high-level shot-makers, namely Vasa Pusica. The Huskies are dangerous.

No. 6 VILLANOVA vs. No. 3 PURDUE, Sun. TBD

Villanova has to get past St. Mary’s in the first round for this to happen — and that will be no easy feat — but if they do I think that Purdue is about the best possible matchup they could have asked for. Purdue is a team that runs a lot of really great offense to create looks for the shooters they have, but Villanova switches everything. The Wildcats are going to make Purdue beat them one-on-one to get good shots, and I don’t know if the Boilermakers have the guys to be able to do that in this game.

No. 4 FLORIDA STATE vs. No. 1 GONZAGA, Sweet 16

If there is one thing that Gonzaga point guard Josh Perkins struggles with, it is defenders with length and athleticism pressuring him all over the floor. That is what Florida State is going to do in this matchup. It worked the last time these two played — in the 2018 Sweet 16 with No. 9 seed Florida State picked off No. 4 seed Gonzaga.

And I also guarantee that these upsets will not happen.

No. 12 MURRAY STATE over No. 5 MARQUETTE, Thu. 4:30 p.m.

I just cannot seed the Racers getting this done against Marquette. For starters, I think that they will be able to hide Markus Howard defensively on some random wing. Then, I think that Sacar Anim will be able to go a good enough job on Ja Morant to keep him from having one of his 40 point nights. And finally, I think Theo John’s presence at the rim will help prevent Morant from having an absolute blow-up game. I didn’t necessarily envision myself going all-in on Marquette in the first round, but here we are.

No. 12 NEW MEXICO STATE vs. No. 5 AUBURN, Fri. 4:30 p.m.

I just think that the Tigers have enough talent — they got dudes! — to beat a good New Mexico State team that has a lot of success because they just play harder than people. I also fully expect the Tigers, who have beaten Tennessee twice in the last 10 days, to continue to run hot. Bruce Pearl will have those guys motivated.