California’s been one of the hotter teams in college basketball in recent weeks, as they entered Sunday’s home game against USC having won their last six games. The win streak coincides with the return of senior guard Tyrone Wallace, who missed time with a broken right hand, and the Golden Bears’ lone scholarship senior celebrated “Senior Night” in style.
Wallace was able to turn the corner on two USC defenders at the left elbow, getting the head of steam needed to throw down an impressive one-handed dunk over USC forward Nikola Jovanovic. The play summed up the night for Wallace and his teammates, who grabbed control of the game late in the first half and didn’t look back.
Cal won by the final score of 87-65, moving their win streak to seven games with Wallace being one of five Golden Bears in double figures with 12 points. Freshman Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb scored 18 apiece to lead the way.
California tightens Pac-12 race with blowout of No. 11 Oregon
With No. 11 Oregon sitting atop the Pac-12 standings, Thursday night represented a great opportunity for California to add a quality win to its NCAA tournament résumé. Sure enough, Cuonzo Martin’s team took full advantage, getting off to a hot start and not looking back in an 83-63 victory.
The beating was a complete one, as the Golden Bears shot 55.7 percent from the field and 9-for-16 from three, playing aggressively on that end of the floor. Cal playing well at home isn’t a shock, as they’re now 15-0 at Haas Pavilion this season. What was shocking was the fact that they made Oregon look powerless to do anything about it. Jabari Bird produced his best game of the season, scoring 24 points, and three other Golden Bears managed to score in double figures as well.
Tyrone Wallace made his return to the lineup after missing nearly four weeks with a hand injury and that helped, but the bigger star at the point was junior Sam Singer. Singer dished out ten of Cal’s 19 assists on the night, at times passing up a quality shot opportunity to get a teammate an even better look. That’s what this team needs from him, especially with Wallace back in the rotation, and he’s more than capable of filling that role.
Cal executed better than Oregon and they also outworked the Ducks, rebounding 40 percent of their missed shots and scoring 27 second-chance points. In many of Oregon’s games in conference play their versatility has won out, as Dana Altman’s team can attack the opposition in a variety of ways from multiple areas. The tables turned Thursday night, giving Oregon a bit of a wake-up call heading into the stretch run.
Cal provided a reminder of what they’re capable of doing when clicking on all cylinders, and they’ve also managed to tighten up a race that appeared to have a clear favorite. As a result of Cal’s win Oregon is now tied with USC in the loss column, and the top seven teams are separated by a total of two games. The Golden Bears are part of that group due to their unblemished home record, and their ability to put it all together at Haas was never in question.
But if the Golden Bears are to play their way into a comfortable position in regards to the NCAA tournament and experience success once there, they have to figure out a way to take this level of play on the road (1-8 away from Berkeley). With four of their final seven games away from Berkeley, whether or not Cal can do so will determine their fate come Selection Sunday.
Cal’s Tyrone Wallace out 4-6 weeks with broken hand
Cal took a major hit to its lineup on Tuesday afternoon as the school announced that senior guard Tyrone Wallace will miss 4-to-6 weeks with a broken hand.
The 6-foot-5 Wallace has been one of the Pac-12’s most productive players the last two seasons as he’s averaging 15.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. The Golden Bears’ leader in points, assists and steals, Wallace going down is a big loss for a 12-6 team that is in a tough Pac-12 and trying to make a postseason run.
Without Wallace, Cal will need to rely on freshmen like Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb to produce while Jordan Matthews must also continue his strong season.
BREAKING: Tyrone Wallace out 4-6 weeks with a broken hand. We wish you a speedy and full recovery!
After dropping games to San Diego State and Richmond in Las Vegas during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, California was a team cited by some as a disappointment of sorts. Cuonzo Martin’s roster, a combination of some talented returnees led by senior Tyrone Wallace and high-level freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, had yet to mesh and the team wasn’t defending at the level their head coach demanded of them.
Since that trip to Vegas the Golden Bears have won eight of their last nine games with the lone defeat coming at No. 5 Virginia, and they’ve been much better defensively as well. Sunday night California took care of No. 21 Utah 71-58, moving to 2-0 in Pac-12 play.
Most importantly for the Golden Bears moving forward is the fact that this team has an identity defensively, something that wasn’t the case in those losses to the Aztecs and Spiders. Cal’s done a better job of keeping teams from getting out in the open floor, and in the half-court they’ve been incredibly stingy. Cal limited Utah to 38.5 percent shooting on the night, which includes 2-for-12 from beyond the arc, limiting the Runnin’ Utes’ quality shot opportunities and forcing them to make challenged looks.
And it was a collective effort for the Golden Bears, with Rabb stepping forward and fellow big men Kameron Rooks and Kingsley Okoroh coming off the bench to help defend Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl, the Pac-12’s best big man, scored 19 points but he needed 14 shots to do so (making six), with Cal’s big men making his touches difficult and challenging most of his field goal attempts.
Add in their ability to contain Utah’s supplementary scorers, and Cal was able to produce another solid defensive performance.
On the season Cal ranks in the top ten nationally in both effective field goal (41.9 percent; seventh) and two-point percentage (37.2 percent; first) defense, key areas to control given the fact that they don’t turn opponents over all that often. Utah committed nine turnovers Sunday night, with Cal converting those miscues into 14 points on the other end.
And even though Cal doesn’t play fast, they have enough to turn the few turnovers they force into scoring opportunities.
There’s no shortage of players who can put up points, with Rabb in the post, Brown (nine points, seven rebounds, four assists) on the wing and Wallace (ten points, six assists) and Jordan Mathews (14 points) being the team’s best perimeter options. But even with that being the case, California has to consistently defend at the level they have during this current 8-1 stretch if they’re to be the team many envisioned them being before the season began.
It took some time for that to get through to the Golden Bears. But with the improved focus on defense, California has looked like a team worthy of the “contender” label in the Pac-12.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS: Kris Dunn still tops a strong list
1. Kris Dunn, Providence: I had Kris Dunn as the Preseason Player of the Year, and while he probably hasn’t been the best player in the country through four games — he hasn’t yet had a statement game on national television — he is averaging 18.8 points, 7.8 boards, 6.8 assists and 5.3 steals.
And while his shooting splits are down from a season ago, he only has eight turnovers through four games. I’m not going to drop my guy when he does that just because he hasn’t gotten into the meat of his schedule yet. No way.
I’ve charted the four games that Dunn has played to determine how much of Providence’s offensive runs through him, a stat I’m going to call, for lack of a better word, possessions “ended”.
When he’s on the floor, how many of Providence’s possessions ended with Dunn shooting, getting to the free throw line, turning the ball over, assisting on a bucket, assisting on free throws or assisting on a missed shot.
Through four games, 62.6 percent of Providence’s offense runs through Dunn, which is an insanely high number and a reason that his efficiency, and shooting percentages, are going to be lower than ideal.
Defenses know this.
Illinois had all five defenders in the paint trying to stop Dunn’s ball-screen actions:
His defender went over the screen while the man guarding the screener stayed with Dunn. The weak-side defender is in the lane helping on Ben Bentil’s role to the rim while the strong-side defender is helping on Dunn’s drive. Here’s video of the entire action:
And just to put Dunn’s numbers in perspective, Valentine “ended” 60.6 percent of Michigan State’s possessions against Kansas.
3. Ben Simmons, LSU: Since we keep talking about whether or not Ben Simmons is overrated, I think this is worth mentioning: He’s currently the leading rebounder in college basketball, averaging 14.5 boards to go along with his 19.3 points, 5.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks. Oh, and he has just six turnovers in four games.
I’m not going to sit here trying to convince he’s not a great player. He is. Unquestionably. But there are a few things you need to understand when analysts and scouts try to temper the comparisons to LeBron James.
Simmons spends a lot of time at the five for LSU, meaning that he is quite often guarded by guys like Luke Fischer, a 7-footer that doesn’t have a prayer of trying to slow down a player that big and that skilled in transition or in a half court setting:
He’s also a terrific passer, one that is so skilled at making defenses pay when the help defenders are too focused on him. Look at Traci Carter when Simmons throws this lob:
That’s a direct result of the mismatches that he gets at the college level.
There are layers to this, too. The numbers you don’t hear with Simmons: he hasn’t even attempted a three-pointer this season. Through his first three games, he only shot five jump shots and missed all five. (Synergy’s logs haven’t been updated with last night’s games yet.) He’s shooting 81 percent from the line, so the stroke is there, but it has yet to manifest itself as part of his offensive repertoire.
Put it all together: NBA teams have guys that are big enough and quick enough to guard Simmons — especially if he doesn’t become a consistent shooter from the NBA three-point line — and while his passing ability rivals LeBron’s, he’s not as quick, explosive or athletic.
In simpler terms, Simmons won’t be exploiting mismatches in the NBA the way he can in college, and defenses won’t have to sellout to slow him down. That’s why I would rather see him compared to Lamar Odom, who, by the way, averaged 13.3 points, 8.4 boards and 3.7 assists in a 15-year career that produced two NBA titles and an appearance on a U.S. Olympic team.
He was damn good.
Comparing him to Odom is a compliment.
4. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: The latest argument that seems to be clogging by mentions is whether or not Ulis or Dunn is the best point guard in the country. My take: Dunn is the best player in the country while Ulis is the best point guard in the country. While the two technically play the same position, the role they play is entirely different. Ulis is a facilitator, a pure point guard. Dunn is the prototype new-age lead guard, a guy built in the mold of Russell Westbrook, John Wall and MVP-era Derrick Rose.
Ulis has been OK in three of Kentucky’s four games, but his performance in the win over Duke — 18 points, six assists, four rebounds, two steals, no turnovers — is what got him this high on this list.
5. Grayson Allen, Duke: Allen has been unbelievable in four of the five games he’s played this season, including back-to-back 30-burgers as the Blue Devils beat VCU and Georgetown in the 2K Classic. Even with that putrid performance against Kentucky, his numbers look like this: 24.4 ppg, 4.4 rg, 3.2 apg and shooting splits of 52.2/53.6/89.7.
6. Tyrone Wallace, Cal: Only one player in college basketball averaged more than 20 points, five boards and five assists last season. This year, Wallace is averaging 20.3 points, 5.8 boards and 5.3 assists for a Cal team that could end up winning the Pac-12. He’ll climb this list if his numbers look as good when the competition gets tougher.
7. Sheldon McClellan, Miami: Picking a player on Miami for this spot was tough, but I decided to go with McClellan for a couple of reason. One: He’s Miami’s leading scorer at 17.4 points. Two: his shooting splits are outrageous (61.7/52.4/94.7) meaning his efficiency numbers are outrageous as well. Three: he’s the guy on that Miami roster that, if I was an opposing coach, I would build a game-plan around stopping.
8. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield was a first-team all-american entering the season and has scored 54 points in two games this year. He went for 30 in a win at Memphis. Not bad.
9. Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga: Kyle Wiltjer was the guy that was on all the preseason all-american lists, but through two (And a half? Does Pitt still count?) games this season, Sabonis has been Gonzaga’s best player. He’s averaging 20.5 points and 10.5 boards, scoring on post-ups and offensive boards and shooting a robust 82.6 percent from the floor.
10. Evan Bradds, Belmont: There are a number of guys deserving consideration for this spot — Demetrius Jackson, Melo Trimble, Shaq Harrison, Josh Hart — but I’m going to give Bradds a little love here. Through five games, he’s averaging 21.3 points, 8.6 boards and 2.4 assists while shooting 76.2 percent from the floor. He had 24 points and nine rebounds in Belmont’s win at Marquette and, in his last two games, is averaging 29 points and 10 boards while shooting 27-for-28 from the field. A run like that can’t last, but while he’s in the middle of it, we’re going acknowledge it.
While the conversation of who is the best player in college basketball can be rather straightforward most years, as many have focused on Providence’s Kris Dunn and LSU’s Ben Simmons ahead of this season, determining who are the most important players in college basketball is a different matter. For some that may mean that they’re the primary scorer, while the importance of other players may best be measured in areas such as defense and leadership.
Below are ten of the nation’s most important players heading into the 2015-16 campaign.
1. Kris Dunn, Providence: Say what you want about the Friars’ chances of reaching the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive season, but there’s no denying just how important the redshirt junior point guard is to his team. Last season Dunn averaged 15.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.7 steals per game, emerging as one of the nation’s best point guards. Now expected to be the best player in the country, Dunn has to lead a team that lost three of its top four scorers from a season ago. His skill level and leadership will be critical for Ed Cooley’s team.
2. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: Sure the future professional prospects of players such as Jamal Murray and Skal Labissiere are bound to receive attention, but no player may be of greater importance to the Wildcats than their sophomore point guard. Ulis played in a reserve role on last year’s 38-1 team, and given the overall youth of this group his ability to lead will be of great importance to John Calipari’s team. While Kentucky does have some experienced players, the best of that bunch is either returning from injury (Alex Poythress) or getting used to a more prominent role (Marcus Lee).
3. Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble met (and some would argue, exceeded) the hype in College Park as a freshman, accounting for 16.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Also one of the nation’s best at getting to the foul line, Trimble was a key factor in the Terrapins’ turnaround in 2014-15. Now with Mark Turgeon’s team being labeled as a national title contender, Trimble’s strides as a leader will be key for a group that isn’t short on talent by any stretch of the imagination. How will this group deals with those expectations will depend largely upon the play of their point guard.
4. Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Paige is currently sidelined with a broken bone on his non-shooting hand, with the expectation being that he’ll miss between three and four weeks. While that provides some of his teammates with opportunities to step forward, that doesn’t mask just how important the senior guard is to North Carolina’s national title hopes. Paige (14.1 ppg, 4.5 apg) was UNC’s best distributor and scorer a season ago, and he was also by far their best perimeter shooter. He’s the biggest key for a team expected to contend for a national title.
5. Tyrone Wallace, California: We’ve discussed Wallace’s role on here during our preseason coverage and with good reason. The left-handed senior was a Bob Cousy Award finalist last season and will once again run the show for Cuonzo Martin’s Golden Bears. But the circumstances are much different this time around, with Cal being a team expected to both contend in the Pac-12 and be a factor nationally. None of that happens if Wallace, who averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game as a junior, doesn’t lead.
6. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: The Spartans lost two key contributors from last year’s Final Four team in Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, but they have enough talent to make a return trip. One of those players is Valentine, a senior whose versatility is matched by few in college basketball. Valentine can play any position on the perimeter, and after averaging 14.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game as a junior he’s capable of taking another step forward in 2015-16.
7. Monté Morris, Iowa State: Morris took a significant step forward as a sophomore, averaging 11.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game on a team that won its second consecutive Big 12 tournament crown. But that team was one and done in the NCAA tournament, and with a new head coach in Steve Prohm at the helm a team with national title desires will have to adjust to a different style. At the forefront is Morris, and given how point guards who have played for Prohm in recent years (Isaiah Canaan, Cameron Payne) have flourished this could be a big year for the junior. While the front court has talent and experience, how well Morris runs the show will have the greatest impact on the Cyclones.
8. Ben Simmons, LSU: Simmons arrived in Baton Rouge amidst much fanfare and with good reason, as he’s considered to be the top prospect heading towards next June’s NBA Draft. At 6-foot-10 the Australian has the size and athleticism needed to make an immediate impact for a team that lost Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, and his skill set is such at he’ll serve as a point forward for Johnny Jones’ Tigers. How Simmons navigates the balance between scorer and table-setter will be key for a team looking to rebound from their disappointing NCAA tournament loss to NC State.
9. Brandon Ingram, Duke: The reigning national champions have a lot to replace from last season’s team, with three first-round picks (Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones) and senior leader Quinn Cook all having moved on to the professional ranks. Adding another top-ranked recruiting class to the ranks helps with the adjustment process, with the crown jewel being the 6-foot-8 Ingram. Slender of build, Ingram has the skill set needed to play any of the three perimeter positions in Duke’s offense and there’s a good chance he’ll be asked to do so. While Grayson Allen’s expected to make a sizable jump as a sophomore, Ingram’s production could be the key to a run at a sixth title for Coach K.
10. Wayne Selden Jr., Kansas: How far Bill Self’s loaded team goes this season may rest on the shoulder of the junior off-guard. And how ready Selden is to shepherd this group will depend largely upon his mindset entering the season. Does Selden play as the sometimes deferential player he was in his first two seasons in Lawrence? Or does he play in the “attack mode” shown at the World University Games in South Korea this summer? If Selden is the former, Kansas risks not reaching their full potential even with the talent they have on the perimeter (Frank Mason III, Devonté Graham, etc.) and in the post (Perry Ellis, Carlton Bragg, Cheick Diallo if cleared, etc.).
AND TEN MORE
11. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: The last standing member of “The Movement” that was supposed to change Indiana basketball, Ferrell will have to lead the way for a talented team facing high expectations.
12. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: While Iowa State has received a lot of attention as Kansas’ biggest threat in the Big 12, do not overlook Oklahoma with the reigning Big 12 POY being a key reason why.
13. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State: The tandem of VanVleet and Ron Baker has accomplished a great deal to this point in their college careers. VanVleet will look to lead the Shockers to their second Final Four appearance from the point, and don’t be shocked if he pulls it off.
14. Daniel Ochefu, Villanova: The Wildcats are loaded with perimeter talent, but do not overlook the importance of their defensive anchor.
15. Caris LeVert, Michigan: Healthy after playing just 18 games due to a foot injury, the versatile LeVert is a key component for a Michigan team more than capable of rebounding from last year’s 16-16 record.
16. Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: With Jerian Grant moving on Jackson will run the show for Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish. Expected by many to make a considerable jump as a junior, Jackson is the kind of talent who can make Notre Dame a contender in the ACC.
17. Ryan Anderson, Arizona: The Wildcats’ closest thing to a proven scorer at this level, the Boston College transfer will need to be that guy for a team looking to mesh a lot of new pieces with holdovers who played in supplementary roles the last couple years.
18. Taurean Waller-Prince, Baylor: As a key cog in one of the nation’s top front courts, the 6-foot-8 senior has the ability to score at all three levels. That will be key for a Baylor team with perimeter questions to answer.
19. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State: Rathan-Mayes’ scoring abilities aren’t be questioned based upon what he did as a freshman on a team lacking scoring options. Now with the Seminoles loaded with talent, his role as a distributor will be key for a team that can be a sleeper in the ACC.
20. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Given how much the Badgers lost from last season’s national runner-up team, both Koenig and Nigel Hayes will be key players. The pick for most important is Koenig, as he’ll be the one with the ball in his hands at the point.