Considering all of the context surrounding this game — Wisconsin having lost four of their last five, Michigan entering the day undefeated, the Badgers’ struggles on the offensive end of the floor, the tenacity with which the Wolverines defend — the performance the we got out of Ethan Happ on Saturday afternoon in the Kohl Center was one of the best individual performances of the year.
Happ finished with 26 points, 10 boards, seven assists and two steals against No. 2 Michigan, one of the nation’s top five defenses, to lead the Badgers to a 64-54 win that moved them to 4-3 in the Big Ten and ended Michigan’s best start to a season in program history. All told, Happ was responsible for 43 of Wisconsin’s 64 points, a fact made even more impressive by the presence of Jon Teske, who has morphed into one of the best defensive big men in the country.
This wasn’t a must-win game for Wisconsin — those don’t exist in January — but it was a ‘prove it’ game.
Freshman Jared Butler scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half to lead Baylor to an upset home win over No. 8 Texas Tech on Saturday evening. Butler also might have hit the biggest shot of the game, burying a three with 4:30 left in the game after Tech has reeled off an 11-0 run to cut the lead to two points. On the next Baylor possession, he finished a three-point play, and the Bears would go on to win 73-62.
This win is so important for Baylor because it not only adds a marquee win to their tournament resume, but it keeps them in the race for the Big 12 title.
Baylor isn’t in a tie for first right now, but that’s only because they haven’t played as many games as the four teams that are currently tied for first in the league. They are, however, tied in the loss column, and a win at last place West Virginia on Monday would get them there.
Should I mention West Virginia just beat Kansas?
ONIONS OF THE DAY: Tyler Herro, Kentucky
Tyler Herro was the star for Kentucky in their biggest win of the season.
The No. 12 Wildcats went into Auburn Arena and knocked off No. 14 Auburn, 82-80, to keep pace at the top of the SEC standings, and Herro was the reason why. He scored 10 of his team-high 20 points in the final 5:23, including a pair of free throws in the final minute to give Kentucky a lead they would never relinquish.
SATURDAY’S BIGGEST WINNERS
DUKE: I’ve written plenty on Duke’s win over Virginia. Read it all here.
BIG 12 PARITY: Goooooooood luck trying to figure the Big 12 out this year.
As of today, there are four teams in the league that are tied in first place with a 4-2 record in the league — Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Iowa State. That doesn’t include Baylor, who beat the Red Raiders on Saturday to move to 3-2 in Big 12 play, or Texas, who knocked off Oklahoma to get to 3-3 on the year in league play. TCU, who is in seventh place in the conference race, is just one game out of first in the loss column while Oklahoma, who is ranked 20th in the AP Poll, is sitting in a tie for eighth.
Should I mention that West Virginia — the team in last place in the league — beat the eventual league champs* Kansas today?
*We all know it’s happening.
WEST VIRGINIA: You heard that right. West Virginia, who entered Saturday with an 0-5 mark in Big 12 play and have played the entirety of the league schedule to date without Sagaba Konate, knocked off No. 7 Kansas in Morgantown for the fourth time in the last five years. In the process, West Virginia exposed the fatal flaw in this Kansas program.
JA MORANT TRACKER: The Murray State superstar and future top five pick finished with 10 points and 10 assists in a win over SIU-Edwardsville. There are some real concerns about his shooting stroke moving forward, but it’s worth noting here: Morant was 21-for-21 from the free throw line. Sources say that’s pretty good.
UNDEFEATED TEAMS: Entering the day, there were two of them.
As of this very moment, there are none. Of the ten biggest leagues in the sport, only Michigan State, Tennessee, LSU, Villanova, Washington, Gonzaga and Saint Louis are still unbeaten in league play.
AAC OFFICIALS: Gregg Marshall, after getting ejected from a home game against Cincinnati, told reporters afterwards that, “I felt like the road team today.” This was the third time this week that an AAC officiating crew was in the headlines. On Thursday night, Tulsa coach Frank Haith and UConn coach Dan Hurley were both ejected at the same time after being given two technical fouls apiece for this dust-up. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was also ejected earlier in the week.
It’s worth noting here — two of the officials that tossed Haith and Hurley (Pat Adams and Marques Pettigrew) also tossed Marshall.
SEC TEAMS IN ALABAMA: No. 14 Auburn did not have a good day. They dug themselves a 16 point second half hole against No. 12 Kentucky, came roaring back thanks to 25 second half points from Bryce Brown and then lost in the final seconds because a game-winning bucket from Jared Harper happened to roll off the rim. Brutal.
But Alabama might have had it worse. They had so many chances to put No. 3 Tennessee away in the final minutes, but they couldn’t run offense. They had a chance to win with 11 seconds left, but John Petty traveled. It was not ideal.
No. 25 Indiana was embarrassed on Saturday.
They lost to rival Purdue 70-55, but it wasn’t the scoreline that really is the indicator here. It was Romeo Langford, who managed just four points in 22 minutes, getting bench with 3:19 remaining because Indiana was, frankly, better without him. His plus-minus was -16, meaning that Indiana actually outscored Purdue in the 18 minutes that Langford was glued to the pine.
It was the fact that the Hoosiers were once again beaten up in a game that they badly needed to win. This was their fourth straight loss. On Monday, they were beaten by 15 points at home against Nebraska.
And look, it should not be all that surprising that Indiana is working through some growing pains here. This is a young team with a freshmen backcourt and a roster that has dealt with some injury issues. They aren’t all that talented, and they don’t shoot it all that well, and, if we’re going to call a spade a spade, they have not gotten the best that Archie Miller has to offer has a head coach yet.
I think Archie would probably tell you that.
And I think he would also tell you that he’s about to learn, first-hand, just how much pressure there is being the coach of a program like Indiana.
Because the fans are not happy about this losing streak, not when one of their own, the one-and-done lottery pick that is supposed to lead Indiana to the promised, is seeing his only season go to waste. Now the media is starting to pile on. Look at the biggest names covering the team. Gregg Doyel ripped them. Dan Dakich (continues) to rip them. Rick Bozich ripped them. I’m sure there are more that I just haven’t noticed yet.
And it’s not going to stop there.
The Colts are out of the playoffs. The Pacers aren’t going to be winning any titles this year. College basketball is going to drive any and all conversation, and the Hoosiers getting humiliated by their in-state rival is all anyone is going to want to talk about.
It’s not easy being the coach of a blueblood.
There’s a reason that someone like Shaka Smart prioritized Texas and Billy Donovan loved it at Florida. It’s nice when the money is there and the pressure only comes after the football team plays a bowl game and before spring practices start.
That’s certainly not the case at Indiana.
And Archie is going to learn that the hard way this week.
Edwards, Eastern lead Purdue past No. 25 Indiana 70-55
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Carsen Edwards scored 20 points and backcourt mate Nojel Eastern had his first double-double Saturday to send Purdue past No. 25 Indiana 70-55 for the Hoosiers’ fourth straight loss.
Eastern finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds while locking down Indiana star freshman guard Romeo Langford in this state rivalry. Langford had just four points on 2-of-10 shooting and committed three turnovers. He missed all four of his free throws and was dogged with “overrated” chants most of the game.
Both teams are now 12-6 overall, with Purdue fourth in the Big Ten and Indiana eighth.
Purdue used as 12-2 run at the end of the first half to go up by seven. The Boilermakers then made four of their first six 3-pointers in the second half to build a double-digit lead.
For the Hoosiers, Justin Smith had 15 points and Juwan Morgan 14. They were the only Indiana players in double figures, and they struggled to defend a combination of Purdue centers.
Purdue freshman Trevion Williams started but got in early foul trouble, resulting in extended minutes for Matt Haarms. Haarms finished with 12 points, four assists and four rebounds.
Purdue has won five of its last six games as it enters a pivotal part of conference play.
Indiana’s four-game losing streak has coincided with poor shooting by Langford. He’ll need to improve for the Hoosiers to climb back in the Big Ten race.
Best Bets: Is it time to go all-in on Virginia at Duke?
Here is everything you need to know when betting the biggest games this weekend.
As always, this is coming out before the Vegas lines for Saturday’s games, so we are using projections from KenPom and Haslametrics to walk through how the game will play out.
No. 4 VIRGINIA at No. 1 DUKE, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Duke 71, Virginia 69
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Duke 73, Virginia 70
The biggest game of the weekend got a lot more interesting with Tre Jones suffering a shoulder injury and likely being forced to miss the game. Jones may be the fourth-best freshman on this Duke team, but he’s arguably the most valuable and certainly the most irreplaceable player on the roster.
Without him, I think this is Virginia’s game to win, even in Cameron Indoor Stadium, a building that Virginia won in last season.
And it all stems from the way that Duke wants to play.
The dirty little secret with this Duke team is that they are not all that good in the halfcourt, and they are even worse when they are forced to play in late-clock scenarios. On the season, the Blue Devils have scored 0.923 points-per-possession (PPP)* in halfcourt possessions (97th nationally) and 0.763 PPP in short-clock scenarios (130th nationally), but they are scoring 1.161 PPP in transition with 23.9 percent of their total possessions coming in transition. Only ten teams have played a higher percentage of their offensive possessions on the break, and North Carolina is the only high major among them.
Virginia, on the other hand, is specifically designed to avoid playing in transition as much as possible. They’ll typically fade the offensive glass, sending three players back and ensuring that the game will be played at their pace. In total, 88.9 percent of Virginia’s defensive possessions have been played in the half court, which is the fourth-highest total of 353 Division I basketball teams; Michigan is the only high-major that has faced fewer transition possessions while Texas Tech is the only team in the country that can better Virginia’s 0.713 PPP allowed in halfcourt defense.
And that’s before we get into the issue of three-point shooting.
Virginia is famous for running the Pack-Line Defense, which, as I explained in full detail here, is built around two core concepts: 1) The player guarding the man with the ball is to provide intense ball-pressure well beyond the three-point line while 2) The other four help defenders are to all be within an imaginary, 16-foot arc. What this does is encourage penetration into those help-defenders, known as ‘The Pack’, forcing kick-outs to spot-up shooters who will have to take a jumper with a defender running at them.
Or, more simply, don’t allow penetration into the paint or baseline and contest all jumpshots from the perimeter.
There is not a worse matchup for Duke than this.
For starters, we know all about their issues shooting from the perimeter. They were shooting 33 percent from three before going 9-for-43 from beyond the arc against Syracuse. And then there are the issues that R.J. Barrett has with overdribbling into help. We saw what happened at the end of the Gonzaga game. Barrett has been better, but the Syracuse loss was another perfect example of this. The Orange play zone instead of Pack-Line, but they basically did the same thing defensively Virginia will do: Pack big bodies in the lane to limit Zion Williamson’s effectiveness and give Barrett no space to drive, dare Duke to win with kickout threes to Reddish, Jack White and Alex O’Connell.
And this is where the loss of Jones plays a major factor in this game.
One of the problems is that it will either force Jordan Goldwire to play or, as it did on Monday night, push Barrett into the point guard role. That’s not ideal, because Goldwire isn’t good enough and Barrett is wired to score; he’s better playing off the ball than on the ball. Hopefully, this will mean Duke decides to unleash Reddish at the point, but I’m not convinced that will happen.
The bigger story, however, is on the defensive side of the ball. Jones is such a menace. He creates so many turnovers that lead to easy buckets at the other end — pick-six turnovers, if you will — but it’s more than just that. His ball pressure forces opposing point guards to chew up clock getting the ball over halfcourt. Then they are forced to initiate offense 40-feet away from the rim with their back to the basket to protect the ball from Jones’ pesky hands. By the time they are finally running action, the shot clock is starting to run down. This creates more rushed shots, lower efficiency offense and more misses. Those misses lead to more opportunities for Duke in transition — Williamson grab-and-go’s, Barrett or Reddish leading the break, long rebounds creating 3-on-2s or 2-on-1s, etc. — which takes the scoring burden off of executing in the halfcourt.
This is the worst possible matchup for a healthy Duke team, and the absolute worst possible team to face without Jones.
*All stats via Synergy
PICKS: The lines are going to be fascinating to see when they come out, but if Virginia is getting points, I will hammer them. I’ll probably bet them even if the line comes out as, say, Virginia (-3). I also think that, assuming the total ends up around 140 or so, the under will be a good bet as well.
TCU at KANSAS STATE, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
KENPOM PROJECTION: TCU 66, Kansas State 65
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: TCU 70, Kansas State 61
It’s not the biggest game of the weekend, but it is the one that I feel the most confident in how it will play out, which is why the line on this game is going to be fascinating to see. TCU has been better than Kansas State this year, which is why both KenPom and Haslametrics are projecting the Horned Frogs to go into the Octagon of Doom and get a win. But TCU also just lost their fourth player to transfer this year — Jaylen Fisher — while Kansas State is playing their best basketball of the season, having won at Iowa State and Oklahoma in the last week. That coincided with the return of Dean Wade, their best offensive player and the only guy on the roster than can be thought of as a dangerous three-point shooter.
Vegas knows all of that.
But then there’s this: Barry Brown Jr. is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country. In three games against TCU last season, Kansas State won twice (at home, in the Big 12 tournament) and in those three games, Robinson — the engine of TCU’s offense — finished with 17 assists and 18 turnovers. On the season, he had a 2.6:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
And then there’s this: In 47 games since the start of the 2017-18 season, Robinson has played 47 games and turned the ball over more than five times in just three of them. Two of those games came against Kansas State.
PICKS: I expect this line to open somewhere around Kansas State (-3), which is a line I would love.
A matchup between the two teams vying for second in an SEC that is currently being dominated by Tennessee will make for one of the more entertaining matchups of the weekend, but it’s a game that is pretty difficult to figure out.
Let’s start with the obvious: Kentucky is horrid at running teams off the three-point line. On the season, they’re allowing opponents to shoot 36.3 percent from beyond the arc (270th nationally), and more than 36 percent of the points that they have given up this season have come from three (52nd-highest). Those numbers come after Kentucky held Vanderbilt and Georgia to a combined 11-for-51 from three in the last two games. Auburn shoots 46.1 percent of their field goals from deep, and only 18 teams — and just three high-majors — score a higher percentage of their points from three than Auburn does.
That would usually make me lean towards the Auburn side here, but it is also worth noting just how important Jared Harper is to the Tigers at the point guard spot, and Kentucky just so happens to have Ashton Hagans on their roster. Hagans is as good on the ball as any defender in the country. Hagans shut down North Carolina’s Coby White, held Alabama’s Kira Lewis to 4-for-14 shooting, forced Texas A&M’s T.J. Starks into five turnovers without an assist (he did have 18 points on 7-for-15 shooting) and kept Vanderbilt and Georgia’s guards from getting going. I should also note that Louisville’s Christen Cunningham had one of his best games against Kentucky.
So I don’t know what to make of this.
PICKS: Both KenPom and Haslametrics are projecting the same score on Saturday, and if the line is Auburn (-4) I think I would probably lean towards the Kentucky side — I just think the Wildcats are a better team, I’m not buying Auburn this year — but I will be staying away personally.
No. 2 MICHIGAN at WISCONSIN, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (ESPN)
Michigan is going to get a serious test on Saturday, as they head to the Kohl Center as one of just two undefeated teams left in college basketball. Since pounding Villanova in the second week of the season, Michigan has played just two road games, and one of those two was on Dec. 4th. John Beilein’s team has overwhelmed people at home, but they only beat Northwestern by two (the Wildcats had a shot to win it at the buzzer) at their place and beat Illinois by 10.
Wisconsin, however, has not been good of late. They’ve lost four of their last five games, including home dates with Minnesota and Purdue. They’ve really struggled to get things going offensively at times as well, scoring just 14 first half points against Minnesota and 15 first half points against Maryland. The last thing you want to do is start slow against Michigan’s vaunted defense.
PICKS: The computer models really like Wisconsin despite the fact that they are just 11-6 on the year. The Badgers are 17th in KenPom, which is probably too high. The problem, however, is that I have a hard time seeing a situation where this isn’t a close, grind-it-out game played in the 50s. Michigan has a top three defense and hasn’t had a road test like this year this year. Wisconsin has a top 15 defense and hasn’t been able to score against worse teams. Both teams fade the offensive glass. Neither of them turn the ball over. Both play at a pace that ranks in the bottom 30 nationally.
If the total ends up being in the mid-to-high 120s, I think the under is probably my favorite bet. (When Wisconsin played Virginia, the final score was 53-46.) I’ll probably stay away from the line unless it is Michigan (-1), a pick-em or Wisconsin is favored; then I’ll be on Michigan.
No. 19 MARYLAND at OHIO STATE, Fri. 6:30 p.m. (FS1)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Ohio State 70, Maryland 67
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Maryland 69, Ohio State 67
Ohio State comes into this one on a three-game losing streak while Maryland own sole possession of second place in the Big Ten race with a 6-1 record. The Terps have won six in a row as Anthony Cowan has thrived playing in a role off the ball and Bruno Fernando has been dominant in the paint.
PICKS: Personally, I just think that the Terps are a much better basketball team that Ohio State is. All due respect to Chris Holtmann, but that team has been playing above their level all season long, and frankly, wins at Cincinnati, at Creighton and over UCLA don’t look as good now as they did at the time. My only concern is that the Buckeyes have Kaleb Wesson, and he’ll be able to ensure that Fernando does not wear anyone down in the paint.
The line here is going to be interesting. KenPom is projecting it at Maryland (+3), at which point I would be all over the Terps. But Haslametrics has it at Maryland (-2), which I probably will stay away from.
No. 25 INDIANA at PURDUE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (FOX)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Purdue 75, Indiana 69
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Purdue 76, Indiana 70
This will be a fun rivalry game between two Big Ten brands that are in something of a rebuilding year. The Hoosiers have now lost three in a row (at Michigan, at Maryland, Nebraska at home) with two of those three coming by double-digits. Purdue, on the other hand, has won five of their last six games with the only loss coming on the road against Michigan State in a game where Carsen Edwards shot like was Carsen Daly.
PICKS: Mackey Arena is a mad house for big games, and I don’t expect anything less on Saturday. The question you need to ask is whether or not you think Indiana can slow down Edwards. I don’t think that the Boilermakers have the defenders to keep Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan from getting their’s, and Indiana has proven that they can be really good at running teams off of the three-point line — threes are where Purdue butters their bread on the offensive end. Lead guards have been able to get it going against Indiana this year, so I think Edwards will as well.
If this line opens at Purdue (-6), I’d probably lean towards Purdue.
No. 8 TEXAS TECH at BAYLOR, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Texas Tech 63, Baylor 59
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Texas Tech 64, Baylor 55
The Red Raiders too, their first loss of the season on Wednesday night at home against Iowa State. The Cyclones have quite a bit of talent on the perimeter and the way they play, they can stretch a defense with some shooting and with playmakers. Baylor ranks 286th nationally in three-point percentage (although they have been shooting it well in league play) and turn the ball over a ton. That plays right into Tech’s hands.
PICKS: Tech is the best defensive team in the country this season, but they struggle to score the ball. This means they are going to be in tight games every single night in a league where, frankly, just about every team is more or less built the same way. Throw in Baylor’s zone defense, which can be tough to crack, and my guess is that the Red Raiders once again find themselves in a defensive battle.
Where this line opens will determine who I bet. If it is Tech (-4), like KenPom predicts, I’d lean Tech. If it’s Baylor (+9), I’d probably be on Baylor. Either way, if the total gets up into the mid-120s, I think the under is the clear best bet here.
No. 7 KANSAS at WEST VIRGINIA, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Kansas 78, West Virginia 72
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Kansas 83, West Virginia 69
West Virginia is not very good this year.
Kansas has won three straight and is starting to figure things out without Udoka Azubuike.
PICKS: The x-factor is Sagaba Konate. If he plays, I’d be less inclined to bet Kansas, because that rim protection makes West Virginia’s defense work better than it has. But frankly, I don’t have a ton of respect for the Press Virginia system right now, and while Morgantown has been a bit of a bugaboo for Kansas over the years, this is a different WVU. If the line is Kansas (-6), as KenPom suggests, hammer it.
ALABAMA at No. 3 TENNESSEE, Sat. 2:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
KENPOM PROJECTION: Tennessee 85, Alabama 70
HASLAMETRICS PROJECTION: Tennessee 90, Alabama 71
Tennessee has been able to simply overpower the lesser teams in the SEC this season, and on paper, Alabama is a lesser team. The question you have to ask is just how much of a “lesser” team is Alabama. They have NBA talent on their roster and, as they showed against Kentucky, they have some dudes on the roster that can take over a game.
PICKS: Based on the projections, this looks like it will be a pretty large spread. Tennessee (-15) is a lot of points, and I might be tempted to take the Vols to cover. I’ll probably pass, personally, but the Vols would be the better bet.
2019 NBA Mock Draft 2.0: Zion Williamson remains No. 1, Duke goes 1-2-3
Periodically, over the course of the rest of the season, we will be posting an updated mock draft here on College Basketball Talk.
This will be different than other mocks, mind you. We’re not as much projecting who is going to be picked where — that is impossible to do right now, as the NBA season is just past the halfway point and the NBA changed their lottery rules to flatten out the odds of who gets the first pick — as much as take a look at where, in a vacuum, a player should be picked.
With that in mind, one of the objectives of this mock will be to take a deeper dive into a handful of the most intriguing prospects in the mock each and every time we update. This isn’t meant to be just a place to rank prospects, the goal is to open up the floor for some discussion about the players that need the most discussing.
Oh, and one other note: We’re only talking about the college kids here. I could sit here and pretend like I know something about Sekou Doumbouya beyond what I Googled and found on YouTube, but the truth is I don’t know a damn thing about him.
I’ll stick to what I know for now.
And that is these prospects:
1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke
Zion is going to end up being the No. 1 pick, and he’s probably going to end up being the National Player of the Year as well. Because of that, the conversation around has gotten somewhat stale. We know what he is. I’m just going to enjoy the final three months of his college career.
2. CAM REDDISH, Duke
For my money, Reddish is the most interesting and, arguably, the most difficult evaluation that NBA teams are going to have on their hands at the top of this year’s draft.
On paper, he is everything that NBA teams want out of a wing. He’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and plus athleticism. He’s proven to be, at the very least, a capable catch-and-shoot floor-spacer. He can be a positive force on the defensive end of the floor when he is locked in. He’s can guard wings, he has the size to play some small-ball four and he spent his entire career before he got to Duke playing as a lead guard — he’s more than capable of making plays with the ball in his hand, can attack close-outs and should have success playing in isolation:
The problem is that Reddish — who committed to Duke before R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson announced where they would be playing their college ball — has been forced into playing a role as the fourth-most important player on the floor. He committed to Duke with visions of being the next Jayson Tatum, or Jabari Parker, or Brandon Ingram, or Justise Winslow, and he’s spent the year being asked to essentially be Duke’s 3-and-D wing.
And to his credit, he hasn’t complained. We haven’t heard from “sources close to Reddish” how unhappy he is, or that he is upset with his playing time, but what we have seen is Reddish struggling to really make a major impact in this role. Some of this is understandable — he’s being asked to do something that he’s never done before — and some of it plays into the previous narratives that surrounded him: That he is not a player that impacts winning.
This is why you see him getting compared to players like Rudy Gay and Andrew Wiggins, athletic marvels that put up big (scoring) numbers but that in a total of 17 seasons have played 17 playoff games combined. Neither has ever won a playoff series.
That’s where two factors come into play:
The interview process and any intel that teams can dig up on what motivates Reddish.
The games that Duke plays without one of their other star freshmen available.
The latter point is going to be the most fascinating part in all of this. In the six games prior to Saturday’s win at Florida State, Reddish was averaging 7.7 points and shooting just 28.8 percent from the field and 18.4 percent from three. He had seven points in the first half, but with Williamson going out for the second half, Reddish scored 16 and hit the game-winning three at the buzzer.
Now Tre Jones appears to be out for an extended period of time. Will this mean that more of the offense flows through Reddish? Will this give him a chance to play on the ball as a lead guard to keep Barrett off the ball? Will he step up and embrace the larger role, keeping Duke at or near the top of the ACC standings without the guy that is, arguably, their most irreplaceable piece?
We shall see.
In a month’s time, maybe I will be convinced that Barrett should actually be the No. 2 overall pick. Or maybe Reddish will shine and the rest of the world will join me in saying that betting on Reddish reaching his ceiling is the optimal move at No. 2.
3. R.J. BARRETT, Duke
Much has been made of Barrett’s 8-for-30 performance against Syracuse and the fact that he was 4-for-17 from three in a game where Zion Williamson had 35 points and couldn’t get a touch in overtime. He’s been called selfish because he took 30 shots, but that is missing the forest for the trees. Barrett had to take those shots. The Orange packed in their zone, did not even pretend to care if Jack White shot threes and sold out to stop Williamson by daring Duke to shoot.
The concern with Barrett as a prospect wasn’t that he took 30 shots and 17 threes, it’s that he missed 22 shots and 13 threes. If he wants to be a primary ball-handler in the NBA, it is not a good sign that the way to beat Duke is to dare Barrett to make jumpers.
4. JA MORANT, Murray State
He’s the best point guard prospect in this draft. He has the positional size, he’s an explosive athlete, he has the vision to be an excellent passer and playmaker at the NBA level and his handle is tight enough that he should be able to create off the bounce at the next level. He’s turnover prone and is up-and-down defensively, but this can be chalked up to the load he’s carrying for the Racers this season. The real concern is his jumper, but his stroke isn’t terrible and there is some hope he can become a threat from three with some work.
I may be higher on Hunter than anyone else. He checks all the boxes for what NBA teams are looking for these days — he’s a well-built, athletic, 6-foot-7 wing that can guard up and guard down while being an uber-efficient offensive weapon that makes threes (44.4 percent) and can attack closeouts and get to the rim. He’s already 21 years old (a redshirt sophomore), but I do think he’s better than his numbers indicate. He’s the third option for Virginia offensively right now with Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy on the roster, which is also a sign that he’ll be willing to accept a role on a team where he’s not the No. 1 option. My guess is that he’ll fall to the back end of the top ten, if not the back end of the lottery, and whoever ends up with him will be getting a steal.
6. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech
Culver is one of the highest floor prospects in this draft. I believe that any team taking him is more or less locked into getting a starting-caliber NBA wing. He’s listed at 6-foot-5 (and might be closer to 6-foot-7) and has added some strength to his frame. He’s been terrific as a pick-and-roll option this year and he can really shooting the ball from the perimeter. I’m not sure he’s great shooting off the dribble, and I think he’s ceiling defensively is lower than some will realize, which limits his upside. I don’t think he’s an all-star, but I do think he’s one of the safest picks in the draft. In a year with so much uncertainty, that has value.
If Reddish isn’t the most difficult evaluation in this draft, Little is.
Here is a player that entered college basketball as, according to some rankings, the No. 2 prospect in the class and has yet to break into the starting lineup for a UNC team that has yet to hit their stride more than halfway into the season. On the season, Little is averaging 9.8 points and 4.4 boards, which is not as bad as it looks when you consider that he is only playing 19.8 minutes per game. His per-40 numbers are not all that bad when compared to other prospects in this range.
The bigger issue is that in nine games against Tier A or B competition, according to KenPom, Little is averaging just 6.8 points while shooting just 33.3 percent from the floor as his three-point shooting drops from 20.7 percent to 12.5 percent.
The question that NBA teams are going to have to ask themselves is whether or not this is because of the player and prospect that Little is, or if this is a direct result of the situation in which Little finds himself in Chapel Hill.
Let’s start with the reason he’s not seeing the floor, because that part is easy: He’s stuck behind Cam Johnson (who is having an all-american season) and Luke Maye (who was a preseason all-american) on North Carolina’s forward depth chart. The way that Roy Williams wants to play is to have two bigs on the floor, two wings on the floor and a point guard, and since that essentially locks one of Sterling Manley, Garrison Brooks or Brandon Huffman into the five-spot, Little has to fight with Maye and Johnson for minutes.
And since he hasn’t been great, that’s been a losing battle, especially in league play.
But this is where the questions about fit come into play.
For starters, while I am wholly unqualified to question the coaching methods of someone as successful as Roy Williams, I do think there is some room for criticism here in the way that he has used this roster. Their best five features a front line of Maye, Johnson and Little, and he has not gone to that lineup nearly enough. It’s becoming a problem.
The bigger picture issue, at least when it comes to projecting Little to the NBA, is that he really doesn’t fit anywhere in UNC’s system. In an ideal world, Williams has a frontcourt that looks like the one he rode to the 2017 national title — with Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks — and Little certainly is not that kind of a player. But he isn’t an ideal fit on a wing, either. He’s not a jump-shooter, he’s not a playmaker on the perimeter, he’s not Marcus Paige or Justin Jackson or Theo Pinson. He is a prototype NBA small-ball four — or big wing, or whatever terms you want to use to define it — and that player doesn’t really fit with what the Tar Heels want to do.
So are Little’s struggles a result of what he is as a prospect, or is it because he joined the roster of a wildly successful 68-year old Hall of Famer who wants to do things his way?
8. ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana
I’m torn on what to think of Romeo Langford as a prospect. The physical tools are there. He has the prototype frame for an NBA wing, and more than anything throughout the season, I’ve been impressed with the toughness he displays on the defensive end of the floor. Archie Miller has used him as a stopper, putting him on an opponent’s best scorer, whether they are a big wing or a point guard. At 6-foot-6 with a sturdy frame, there’s even some potential for Langford to play the four in small lineups.
Offensively, he’s terrific at getting to the foul line and is an unbelievable finisher around the rim, but the concern for me is his shooting ability, which is pretty surprising when discussing one of the greatest scorers to ever come out of the state of Indiana. He’s shooting 23.8 percent from three this season and he has some weird wrist action on his release that leads me to believe that he will one day need to retool his shooting stroke. But with everything else that he brings to the table, it might be the smart move to bet on him figuring that out in time.
9. KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky
Johnson is a tough, competitive wing that is a plus athlete with the physical tools he needs to play the wing in the league. He’s a capable three-point shooter, although he tends to be streaky on that end. He can really defend and he’s shown flashes of being a good scorer as a slasher. He profiles as a high-floor, relatively low ceiling prospect in that regard, something of a Miles Bridges without as many windmills.
10. KEVIN PORTER JR., USC
Red flags are starting to pop up for Porter. It took him six weeks to return from a mysterious thigh bruise, long enough that it had people speculating that an agent had gotten in his ear and told him to shut it down for the rest of the season. He returned to play 25 minutes against Oregon State, but managed to get himself suspended indefinitely three days later. Add all of that to concerns that NBA teams already had about him, and it makes the pick risky.
Personally, I think his ceiling is enormous. If he gets his jumper worked out, there is a very real chance that he could end up being the best scorer to come out of this draft class. But if he doesn’t get drafted into an organization that can provide him with structure and veteran leadership, this could end up going the wrong way.
11. DARIUS GARLAND, Vanderbilt
I really feel for Garland. After a promising start to his freshman campaign, he saw any hope of trying to play his way into the being the first point guard drafted go up in smoke after tearing the meniscus in his left knee and undergoing season-ending surgery. That’s tough. But Garland was impressive in flashes — particularly in the first half of Vandy’s win at USC — and not only should he be healthy by the time NBA teams can start bringing players in for workouts, meniscus tears are not considered to be career-altering injuries.
12. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech
Alexander-Walker’s development has been fun to watch. After entering last season with some one-and-done buzz, it took him a year to acclimate to the college level. This year, he’s been asked to play much more of a lead guard role, teaming with Justin Robinson to form arguably the best backcourt in the ACC. His assists are up, he’s running ball-screens more than he ever has before and he’s still a knockdown three-point shooter. With positional size and plus-length, he’s a guy that profiles as a defensively versatile wing that can be a creator in the NBA. He’s a perfect fit for the way the league is heading.
Gafford has all the tools you want out of a rim-running, rim-protecting, vertical-spacing five in the modern NBA. He’s 6-foot-10, he has a ridiculous wingspan, he’s super-athletic. Put all that together, and what you get is a player averaging 17.0 points, 9.3 boards and 2.1 blocks for Arkansas this season. His production is way up from last season, but the concern is that he does not look fully engaged. His motor doesn’t always run, he’s gets pushed around on duck-ins and battling for position and despite his athleticism, he’s not as good as you would hope defending on the perimeter — he’s stiff, not limber. Playing armchair psychologist, he looks like he regrets the decision he made to return to Arkansas for another season.
I’m still buying on the potential Gafford provides in the same way that I bought on the potential Robert Williams had last season.
14. TRE JONES, Duke
Let’s just get this out of the way now: Tre Jones needs to become a better shooter for this pick to payoff value. I think he will. He’s a worker, he has NBA bloodlines and he’ll put in the time in the gym to get it done. And while he’s not shooting it great right now — 28.6 percent from three, 58.3 percent from the foul line — he has shown nice touch on floaters and pull-ups in the lane.
The rest of his game is what intrigues me so much. It starts with his on-ball defense, which is a game-changer for Duke this year. I’m not sure there is a better defender in all of college basketball, and Jones has the strength and athleticism to be able to do the same at the next level. His leadership qualities are exactly what you would expect from Tyus Jones’ brother — all the point guard cliches, he has them — and he’s proven that he doesn’t need the spotlight; if he can fit alongside the Big Three at Duke, he can fit in an NBA locker room.
15. ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova
I’m still in on Paschall becoming a capable role player in the NBA, but that’s because I’m buying that he can extend his shooting stroke out to the NBA three-point line. Everything else makes sense: He’s a chiseled 6-foot-8, he’s an explosive athlete, he can defend on the perimeter and, playing in that Villanova offense, he’s proven he can accept a role and be a guy that attacks closeouts. I’m not sure he’s an NBA starter, but Jay Wright has a significant track record of sending players to the NBA ready to contribute immediately. His ceiling is nowhere near some of the players I have ranked behind him, but I do believe there is real value for a team drafting late in the first round knowing they can get a 22-year old that will be able to contribute right away.
16. JAXSON HAYES, Texas
There is no player in the country that has improved their draft stock more than Hayes, who did not even start a high school basketball game until his senior season. He’s very, very raw, but he has the size, the build, the length and the athleticism that you want out of an NBA five — his dad was an NFL tight end, and Hayes is built like someone that would have followed that path, but he didn’t stop growing until he hit 6-foot-11. He’s mobile, he had sensational hands and he’s been unstoppable at times as a roller in ball-screen actions.
And he’s raw, which means that he has a long way to go but that he can be developed however an NBA team sees fit. Sometimes a blank canvas is better than a player that already has bad habits ingrained.
17. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga
The ideal for Hachimura is to be what O.G. Anunoby is — a versatile defender with three-point range that can finish above the rim and guard anyone from wings to centers. The problem is that Hachimura has the physical tools to be a really good defender but that it hasn’t all come together for him on that end just yet, and while he’s proven to be a good midrange shooter, he was an awkward release and is shooting just 28.7 percent from three in his career.
18. BRUNO FERNANDO, Maryland
Fernando has been a force through the early portion of Big Ten play. He’s physically dominant and has taken over games with his ability to crash the glass and finish in the paint. He’s a good post scorer and can pass out of double-teams. He’s not the most mobile or dextrous perimeter defender, but he’s not the worst, either.
19. BOL BOL, Oregon
There are myriad red flags with Bol Bol — Is his tough enough to handle the NBA game? What position is he guarding at the next level? Does he actually love basketball? — and that was before he became the latest in a long line of seven-footers with foot problems. His ceiling is massive. Players with his shooting and shot-blocking ability don’t come along that often. But if I’m an NBA general manager, I let someone else take the risk.
20. ASHTON HAGANS, Kentucky
In the five games since Hagans burst onto the scene with eight steals in a win over North Carolina, he’s averaged 15.8 points, 4.4 assists and 3.6 steals while shooting 55.6 percent from the floor. Like Jones, he’s far more advanced defensively than he is offensively, but he’s a total game-changer on the defensive end and, frankly, I think that his shooting touch is closer than people might think.
Ashton Hagans up to 17 points at Georgia after this filth. I think he hears those Georgia fans getting on him. Hes going to mess around and play his way into the first round. pic.twitter.com/2GtL5P0eKn
There’s an added layer here — Hagans is uber-competitive. He’s jawing with someone every game. He put up a career-high 23 points at Georgia, his home-state school where he was previously committed, after the fans in the arena spent the day all over him. You have to love that in a player.
21. TY JEROME, Virginia
Jerome is a 6-foot-5 guard that has the shooting ability to play off the ball — he thrives running off of screens in Virginia’s blocker-mover offense the same way that Malcolm Brogdon did — but can handle the ball and has the leadership qualities of a point guard. He’s not an elite athlete, but he’s stronger than he gets credit for and has a crafty way of creating separation and getting into the lane. Plus, playing in Virginia’s system likely means that there’s little chance he’ll be a liability defensively against NBA backups, which is the role he projects to play. Like Jalen Brunson, or Fred VanVleet, or T.J. McConnell before him, Jerome has ten-year NBA backup written all over him.
22. KZ OKPALA, Stanford
Okpala fits the mold. He’s a 6-foot-8 wing with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a solid frame that can shoot from the perimeter and operate ball-screens. He’s shooting 47.9 percent from three this year, up from 23.8 percent last season, although he’s only taken 48 threes this year. He’ll be a rotation player, possibly a starter, in the NBA for a long time.
23. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee
This stat from Sam Vecenie of The Athletic says it all: Since 1992, there are just six high major players that have averaged at least 18 points, eight boards and three assists while shooting better than 50 percent from the floor, and all six (Tim Duncan, David West, Jared Dudley, Evan Turner, Ben Simmons and Caleb Swanigan) ended up being first round picks. Five of the six have, or will have, long and successful NBA careers. He’s smart, he’s tough, his length allows him to play bigger than he is and he’s a better shooter than his numbers indicate. He’s a pro.
24. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga
Is Clarke the best athlete in this draft? Is he the best frontcourt defender in all of college basketball? He might be both. He’s a rim-protector and a vertical spacer that is switchable enough to guard on the perimeter. He isn’t much of a threat offensively beyond finishing around the rim, but neither is Jordan Bell.
25. ADMIRAL SCHOFIELD, Tennessee
You know what you’re getting with Schofield if you are an NBA team. He’s a 6-foot-5 wing that’s built like a wrestler, that has a 7-foot wingspan, that is shooting 41.2 percent from three the last three seasons (294 attempts) and that is a virtual lock to be a plus defender in the NBA. He’s a perfect 3-and-D role player with defensive versatility that will be adored in an NBA locker room for the way that he plays the game and carries himself professionally. He will make a playoff team better in the late first round.
26. JORDAN POOLE, Michigan
Poole is a streaky shooter, but this year, the nights where he gots 5-for-6 from three have far outweighed the 1-for-8 nights. He’s shooting 44.8 percent from beyond the arc while shooting more than five per game, and perhaps most impressive is that many of those threes come off the dribble. His jab series is lethal, as is his step-back jumper going left:
He’s averaging 2.2 assists per game this season, and at 6-foot-5, he has the size to play the two in the NBA. The question with Poole is going to be whether or not he can guard in the NBA, and after spending two years playing with this Michigan program, I tend to believe that he’ll be fine, not quite an average defender but not a full-blown liability, either. That should be enough for him to become the next Nick Young.
27. SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s
Ponds is among the biggest risers for me in this draft class. The 6-foot-2 junior is averaging 20.6 points, 6.0 assists, 4.7 boards and 2.7 steals while shooting 40 percent from three this season. His efficiency is through the roof this year, but more impressive has been the fact that he’s made it a point to get his teammates involved.
“He is passing a lot more than he ever has, especially early, to get his teammates going,” one Big East coach told me. That said, Ponds has absolutely taken over games, but it tends to be when his team needs him to the most. St. John’s has played six games this season that were single-digit games. They are 5-1 in those games, and Ponds scored at least 32 points in four of those five wins — 37 points and six assists at Georgetown, 37 points vs. Georgia Tech, 35 points and seven assists vs. VCU, 32 points and five assists vs. Cal. That doesn’t include the 26 points and five dimes he had in the win over Marquette, their biggest win of the season.
It’s that willingness to be a passer — A newfound trust in his teammates? — that has changed things for the Johnnies this season. “We were more concerned with his paint touches, [keeping] the floor tight,” said another coach that scouted St. John’s last season.
You can’t play that way against them this season, and the result hasn’t just been a more efficient season for Ponds, it has meant that the Johnnies now look like the best team in the Big East. I’m in on him at the next level.
28. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette
I’m also in on Howard in the NBA because he is such an incredible shooter. Prior to playing just three minutes on Tuesday night do to back issues, he was averaging 25.8 points and shooting 44.4 percent from three on 9.4 attempts per game. He’s only 5-foot-11, which is a concern defensively, and his limited wingspan makes me wonder if he’ll be able to get his shot off against NBA defenders. That said, he’s an unbelievable tough-shot maker that has proven the ability to create space with step-backs and dribble moves. He’ll probably get picked in the second round, but that will be good value for whoever hoovers him up.
29. LUGUENTZ DORT, Arizona State
Dort is a powerful, athletic combo-guard that shot up draft boards early in the year before coming back down to earth in recent weeks. His inefficiency is the concern, and while he’s a star defender, he’s nowhere near the creator that his best comparison — Marcus Smart — is now or was in college. The question that NBA teams are going to have to ask when deciding about drafting Dort is whether his inefficiency stems from who he is as a player, or if it is simply the result of playing on a team that doesn’t have many other offensive options.
30. P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky
When Reid Travis committed to Kentucky, P.J. Washington liked a tweet of mine where I said Travis is a better player than Washington. I wonder if he’ll like this mock draft, where I’ll admit I got that wrong. Washington looks to be much-improved this year. He’s stream-lined his body, he’s moving better on the perimeter, his rebounding numbers are up and he’s shooting 37 percent from three and 68.7 percent from the line. We all miss sometimes.
SEVEN PLAYERS I WISH I COULD HAVE INCLUDED IN THE TOP 30
CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan: Matthews might be the best wing defender in this draft. The way he moves on the floor it looks like he’s gliding. Effortless. If he shot 40 percent from three and/or 75 percent from the line instead of 32.7 percent and 62.7 percent, respectively, he’d probably be a top 20 pick.
JONTAY PORTER, Missouri: The talent is there, the health, at this point, is not. At 6-foot-11, he’s much more skilled offensively than people realize, but this is a pick that needs to be made by doctors.
QUENTIN GRIMES, Kansas: I’m still in on the potential of Grimes in the longterm, but I’m starting to think he’s more of a two or three year college player than one-and-done. What does he do at an NBA level right now? He shoots 30.3 percent from three, he has fewer assists than he does turnovers and he hasn’t been anything special defensively.
IGGY BRAZDEIKIS, Michigan: I’m not quite sure where Brazdeikis plays in the NBA. He’s not quite a wing and he’s not quite a four, but he does shoot 38.5 percent from three, he’s tough as nails and he’s more athletic than you think. It is worth noting that he’s older than a typical freshman — he’s eight months older than Jaren Jackson.
COBY WHITE, North Carolina: White might have played his way into being a one-and-done freshman. He’s proven to be a microwave scorer, he’s got good positional size and he doesn’t turn 19 until February 16th. I get it, but there are a handful of point guards that I rate over him, personally.
CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: Edwards was a monster in a win at Wisconsin, scoring 36 points in overtime, but that came just days after an abysmal, 3-for-16 performance against Michigan State. We know what Edwards is at this point: A backup point guard that will put up points against NBA backups. Can you say microwave?
JALEN MCDANIELS, San Diego State: The intrigue with McDaniels is that he’s 6-foot-10 with perimeter skills. The problem with McDaniels is that his jumper is still inconsistent at best (28.1 percent from three this season) and he weighs just 195 points. If he can make threes and he can’t defend fives, then where will he make an impact in an NBA game?
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Nebraska found itself in the zone Monday night.
The No. 25 Indiana Hoosiers looked completely befuddled.
As Glynn Watson Jr. scored 15 points, Isaac Copeland added 14 and James Palmer flirted with a triple double, it was a smothering defense that helped Nebraska pull away for a 66-51 upset — its second straight victory on the Hoosiers’ home court.
“At halftime, I said `It’s OK to win with defense,” Cornhuskers coach Tim Miles said, trying to steady his team. “This is sure a confidence builder.”
The Huskers (13-4, 3-3 Big Ten) won their second straight overall, extended their winning streak in the series to a school-record three and racked up style points by limiting the nation’s second-best shooting team to its lowest point total and worst shooting percentage (36.5) of the season.
All it took was a fast start and Mills’ trademark 1-3-1 defense to rattle the lethargic Hoosiers (12-5, 3-3), who never recovered from a dismal start. Indiana has lost three straight overall and had its home-court winning streak snapped at 10.
“That was probably one of the most disappointing games that we’ve played as a team this season. We didn’t have any energy, any pop, either end of the floor,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “I didn’t think that we played with near enough energy to compete in this league. Offensively we were just horrendous in the first half.”
It wasn’t a matter of what went wrong but what didn’t?
While Romeo Langford scored 18 points and Juwan Howard had 17 points and eight rebounds, nobody else scored more than five. And aside from Langford and Morgan, who were a combined 13 of 29 from the field, Indiana managed just six baskets.
Palmer, meanwhile, had 11 points, nine rebounds and seven assists — matching Indiana’s team assist total in a game the Hoosiers seemed to zone out.
“I thought we did a good job getting to Romeo and Juwan, making them play in a crowd,” Miles said. “We kept them out of transition for the most part. Getting off to an early lead was probably most important. Getting the crowd out of the game. The way you win big road games, you play from the front, and just hang on.”
Nebraska followed that blueprint perfectly, scoring the first nine points and extending the lead to 25-7 midway through the first half.
When the Cornhuskers missed 12 consecutive shots, Indiana closed the deficit to 26-20 late in the first half and got as close as 35-32 early in the second half.
But Nebraska answered with an 8-0 run and closed it out by methodically pulling away late.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers’ defense can challenge anyone in the Big Ten with its length and versatility. And when they score consistently, they can pose a real threat against any team anywhere.
Indiana: Sure, the bounces didn’t go Indiana’s way. But Miller acknowledged his team was lethargic and out of sync from the start. He knows they need to get better quickly.
Nebraska: Never trailed in the game. … The 15-point victory margin was Nebraska’s largest in the series since a 38-18 victory in February 1920. . … Palmer and Copeland made their 50th consecutive starts. … The Cornhuskers also ended the Hoosiers 26-game home winning streak in December 2016, their last trip to Assembly Hall.
Indiana: Made only four of its first 19 shots and had only nine points with 5 minutes left in the first half. … The Hoosiers were 2 of 14 form 3-point range and 11 of 19 on free throws. … Justin Smith was 2 of 7 from the field after making 22 of 27 in the previous five games (81.5 percent). He had five points.
THEY SAID IT
Nebraska: “I thought our guys did a very good job with the game plan from the get go,” Miles said.
Indiana: “We just weren’t getting the ball moved,” Langford said. “We were just playing a little bit too conservative on the 1-3-1, weren’t really attacking, and that’s what you’re supposed to do against the 1-3-1 is attack and get the ball in the middle.”