Author Archives: alleninxis

The Good and Bad of Josh Smith

As has been reported by HoyaReport.com, Josh Smith a UCLA transfer is visiting Georgetown this weekend – while rumors have spread the past few weeks about him possibly becoming a Hoya, this certainly points in that direction with a pre-Christmas visit and Smith looking to enroll next semester. If it happens, it’s a roll of the dice by John Thompson III to get involved with Smith, who most say is a very solid young man – he just struggles with his weight and conditioning. The UCLA program of recent years raises enough eyebrows to make you wonder if his career can be salvaged and maybe not only salvaged but eventually flourish again like so many had thought it would coming out of Kentwood High School in Washington. I have no idea if the UCLA program was too enabling or if Smith, and only Smith – is responsible for his struggles. I do know that if JTIII is interested (a calculated man by all accounts) he seems something that can be worked with, both on and off the court.

Smith is a legit 6’10 and I’m guessing his weight has fluctuated for the past 4 years from anywhere from 300lbs to close to 370lbs. What Georgetown or any program can do with Smith’s demons remains to be seen but there will need to be drastic improvements in that area to get the most out of him on the court, particularly on the defensive end. On offense, even out of shape Smith offers a unique skill set and physicality that is rare in college basketball. His ability to gain low post position and utilize good feet with soft hands and a soft touch is hard to find. On top of that, everything that can be seen as far as how he reads the game seems above average. His struggles are almost always attached to being out of shape. He is fatigued easily, gets out of position on defense and at some point you can argue whether or not it is someone giving full (or even close to it) effort on the floor.

I believe as most others would, that Smith looked his best (weight and game wise) during his freshman season when he posted 10.9 points per and 6.3 rebounds in just 21.7 minutes on 55.5% shooting. During that season he had individual games of: 17 and 13 at Kansas, 15 and 8 vs BYU, 19 and 8 vs St. John’s, 17 and 4 vs Arizona, 12 and 16 at Washington and a combined two game effort of 30 points and 9 rebounds against Michigan State and Florida in the NCAA Tournament. The year was a mixed bag, but the good outweighed the bad. His sophomore year came and Smith appeared to actually have gained weight and it was a struggle all season. The return game vs Kansas saw Smith foul out in 13 minutes and score 1 point. The only stand out performance came in a return trip home to Washington in which he posted 24 points and 9 rebounds. The sophomore numbers dipped to 9.9 points and 4.9 rebounds and his time on the floor decreased as the Wear Twins became better options. Yes, the Wear Twins. Junior year came and went quickly, as Smith still somehow trending upwards in weight – left the team after six games.

So, what now? Well, it’s again easy to see why JTIII has interest as Smith possesses skills and strength on the low-block that can be of value.

First, we’ll take a look at the good, in particular his ability to carve out space – which I’d argue that Georgetown has not had a player do all that well since Sweetney. Roy, bless his heart was never clearing people out, nor was Greg. They won with height and skill on the block, Smith wins with strength:

Next, some examples of Smith’s ability to pass out of double teams – these are the good examples, however he also has had a problem turning the ball over in these spots. I’d attribute that again to just being out of shape and fatigued on the floor. His instincts of sensing a double and passing out of it are usually correct, the execution can vary. How his passing relates to the high post is anyone’s guess, but I don’t think you would see a black hole with the ball on the block.

Here’s a look at some plays he finishes, Smith has soft hands and is good finishing around the rim – when in shape. Beating a dead horse, but that is really the key. If he can elevate, he’ll score. If not, you see what happens in the second video – struggles to get a shot up but does stick with it.

The above was the good, on defense it’s another story. Smith isn’t quick and really struggles against defending the pick and roll:

He’s not quick enough to hedge hard, and if has to compensate by giving more room- it’s still bad news:

He also can take a bad angle:

And this is what becomes really frustrating, 2nd half of game and Michigan just picks on him. This is where it looks like he stops playing:

This is poor team defense where I can’t fault Smith entirely, but he still isn’t quick enough to react in time:

Here, Smith has the right idea – he just can’t execute well enough and recover:

And I can’t tell you what happened here:

You could live with this, also to note he did look quicker laterally his freshman season:

His attention to detail, effort, conditioning and weight all play a part. It’s ultimately going to be up to him to become committed to the game again and in turn, to the defensive side of the ball.

I think you can sum things up by this last one, Smith carves out space for an offensive rebound and put back – but head down to the other end and he gives it right back:

In the end, I really do believe there is something to work with here, especially with a year off and I’m sure the staff would make it mandatory for Josh to spend his summer in DC. Talented low-block scorers in college right now are so rare that Georgetown potentially having one would be a major asset. His rebounding is also a big positive, particularly on the offensive end where in the III era Georgetown does not get many second chances in most years. How Smith works into the ‘Georgetown’ offense would be interesting as very rarely in his time at UCLA did he ever even enter the high post. Who adjusts to who? Other questions such as where does a spring scholarship come from (Is Adams already a medical hardship?) or is Smith on track to graduate in ’14 (do we only get 1/2 a year out of him if things go really well, or can we cut this thing short if it goes poorly)? – can all be answered in time. For now, I absolutely think it’s a shot worth taking.

Trey Burke And the Dismantling of West Virginia

The evolution of Trey Burke has spawned from unheralded point guard out of Ohio to surprise freshman in the Big 10 to now, All American – and what should be early consideration for POY honors. Burke entered his name into the 2012 NBA Draft until ultimately deciding to return to school. The decision looks a wise one as Burke continues to up his game and now with a continued understanding of the point guard position coupled with improved strength and quickness, Burke looks like a 1st round lock. If any NBA scouts were in attendance this past Saturday night in Brooklyn, they surely came away impressed.

Burke had his way with any and all West Virginia guards from Juwan Staten to Jabarie Hinds to Gary Browne. Burke’s ability has helped lead Michigan to an 11-0 start and very real Final 4 aspirations. Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway along with Glen Robinson III have helped matters but it’s Burke that is the driving force and improving their games while simplifying them at the same time. Stauskas can live off of drive and kicks, Hardaway’s floor game has improved but has the luxury of concentrating on and doing what he does best – score.

Burke’s numbers currently look like this:

18 points per, 7 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 53.5% FG shooting, 38.3% from 3 and 75.7 FT%. Burke has a usage rate of 26%, a turnover to assist ratio of 3.3 to 1, and by result Michigan as a team is shooting 51% from the floor, 57.5% from 2PT and 40% from 3 with only a turnover rate of 15.9 (17th nationally – and Burke only has 6 turnovers in his last 6 games.). Add it all up and Michigan is the 5th most efficient offense so far this season.

The ability to play in the pick and roll is mandatory for any PG with the NBA in their sights and Burke does it as well as anyone. He has great pace to his game and is never in a hurry. With his increased explosiveness this season Burke also is proving to be deadly creating his own shot when things break down.

Burke is currently a good shooter, not quite yet great – but certainly good enough that you can’t go under a screen:

Ideally, you’d like to force Burke left and even here – where West Virginia hedges hard and seems to have Burke trapped – there is no panic and Burke’s ability to keep his dribble alive along with his court vision makes the play:

Burke’s ability to break people down was on display Saturday night as well:

He has really been able to blend his scoring and facilitating together nicely this season. His ability to get to where he wants on the floor is impressive this season and is leading to improved efficiency, this is a play I’m not sure he could finish last year:

One of the last things you want to do this season is pressure Michigan in the back court or look to play in a transition game. They have multiple ball handlers and will look to attack:

Burke also is showing no problem calling his own number and rejecting a screen if he sees fit. His ability to attack as a scorer makes Michigan so difficult to cover with Stauskas and an improved shooting Hardaway spacing the floor:

Back to the pace of his game, he’s playing at a speed that’s comfortable for him and uncomfortable for anyone guarding him.

Burke was special on Saturday night – perhaps the best game anyone has played this year, so this is above the norm. But the signs he is showing this year is that of a player who was already really good that has made a significant leap.

Mikael, Nate and Stuff.

A lot has been made of Mikael Hopkins role in the Georgetown offense this year. The past week his time on the floor and impact was lessened by foul trouble and how aggressive he was. It seemed to me that someone may have had a talk with him about picking his spots – and it being okay to defer. Not that it was a direct result of it, but Georgetown did have their two best offensive performances since they played Indiana.

In fairness to Mikael, the only other centers that JTIII has had have either been; a) 1st Round NBA Draft picks or b) Seniors.

To see how Mikael stacks up so far against SR year Roy, Henry and Julian and SO year Greg :

Centers

Mikael is an adequate scorer at this point in his career. His back to the basket leaves something to be desired but it’s decent for a sophomore, he just struggles to finish which is reflected in his 38% shooting. Helping matters so far is his ability to get fouled and get to the line as his FT Rate is by far the highest out of the group. Mikael’s criticism thus far comes from the amount that the ball is in his hands as a decision maker. Julian Vaughn’s assist % was the lowest of the bunch before Mikael, but Julian also had by far the lowest usage rate. Right now Mikael is the play maker out of the high post Julian was (not much) but also is trying to make plays at the rate of Henry Sims and Greg Monroe. It’d help if the rebounding numbers went up as well, but with Whittington crashing the boards this year along with Otto and Nate – it’s not a dire need. The concern going forward has to be how much he forces the issue. If he can defer at pick his spots with the one on one coverage that he’ll be the benefit of, he can put together a solid season. We saw more of that the past two games, it also helps the Hoyas that there is capable replacement if Mikael falters. It’s not Moses Ayegba (yet) but rather Nate Lubick.

lubick

It’s difficult to interpret these numbers because Nate still does spend most of his time at the 4 spot. However he has shifted over to the 5 at times and there has to be at least some thought of Nate being capable of running the offense. If you play Nate at the 5 as the hub of the offense, it is likely that we see more assists coming out of the high post. If the 5 spot is going to turn the ball over, some thinking has to be given to at least having a play maker be the culprit. Do you lose rebounding by moving everyone up a spot? Maybe, but I don’t think it’s asking for much trouble (to note, Jabril has a higher def reb % than Mikael). Where it would most likely put this group at a disadvantage is the use of zone defense which Georgetown is playing at a high level again this year. You essentially move Greg to the back line and insert Jabril to the top of the zone at the SG spot.

Also, here are the chart numbers with an inclusion of 2005 Jeff Green when he played a lot of ‘5’:

centerss

So, there is something to go off of with the Starks/Trawick/Whittington/Porter/Lubick group : The 2005 and even the 2006 team.  The most often used lineup with that 2005 group was: Wallace/Cook/Owens/Bowman/Green. Rayshawn Reed actually played slightly more minutes than Roy Hibbert. Only a 7 man rotation with the Top 5 all averaging 25 or more minutes with a natural college PF taking on more of a center role. Defensively that team only allowed 41.5% shooting, in the end it was a team that couldn’t score easy baskets and played at the slowest pace of all III teams as the offense was being put into place. Had they found easier offense, it was a team that likely wouldn’t have collapsed down the stretch and made an (astonishing) NCAA appearance.

None of this is to say Mikael needs to hit the bench or playing Nate at the 5 is a viable option long term. The Big East isn’t small. Between Syracuse’s front court and Cooley, Dieng, Teague, Adams and Gardner/Otule – there are a lot players Mikael will have to be on the floor to go against. But, there is another option that doesn’t rely on Moses or BJ Hayes taking on a role they aren’t quite ready for. A case certainly can be made that Jabril is one of the 5 best players on this team and I’ll have to wait until HoyaProspectus runs their lineup stats this season but I’m interested to see where the Starks/Trawick/Whittington/Porter/Lubick group falls in. Otto at the 4 also seemed to net the best offensive production last year (http://www.hoyaprospectus.com/2012/03/lineup-stats-for-all-conf-games.html) – it allows him to hit the offensive boards more aggressively, something this team really is lacking and makes him a greater threat in the mid range – where he excels.

My points in all this:

  • Mikael is a sophomore handling a role which demands a lot from him and he may not be that player needed yet. But, he certainly is more advanced than sophomore (or junior) year Henry was. He can get there in time.
  • Putting Jabril on the floor with the Top 4 should be a gain on offense. And while Jabril is one of the better defenders on the team, how much does his inclusion hurt the zone defense that is employed so often?
  • Everything we’ve seen from Nate this year says he could/can handle more responsibility and the floor may open up with better spacing. The length that would remain on the floor makes up for moving Greg, Otto and Nate up a spot.

I’m cherry picking the first example I saw, but here’s an example of the spacing with a Nate/Mikael combo vs Nate playing the 5..

Mikael sets a high ball screen and while Nate doesn’t flare out as quickly as he should – the defense doesn’t respect him at that spot on the floor, a driving lane is quickly shut off for Markel and from there the offense had to re-start:

mikael1

mikael2

Here is the same thing, a high ball screen and again no action off of it due to Nate’s defender being allowed to help off:

mikael11

mikael22

Now, here is an example I found of the Markel/Jabril/Greg/Otto/Nate grouping with Nate setting a high ball screen for Greg, which he rejects due to an opening:

nate3

nate4

nate5

Everyone had to be accounted for – Jabril, Markel and Otto. The Western Carolina defender did a poor job of showing too early but he likely thought that he had help behind him if Greg rejected the screen. Greg did so due to having an open lane with his teammates pulling the defense away. The result was a missed dunk but an open look at an easy basket.

Teams  from Michigan to the Knicks and the Miami Heat have found success lately playing a multi-dimensional 4 man and stretching the floor with skill. It’s too much of Nate Lubick to ask for him to play the 5 spot on defense for extended periods, but I think this lineup can help give a boost to the Georgetown offense this season in stretches.

Weekend Thoughts

Might as well start with the marquee match up between Florida and Arizona. The game went how I thought it would for 37 1/2 minutes. The 2 1/2 minutes it didn’t? Last minute and a half of the first half and last minute of the 2nd half. What happened in those two and a half minutes is really beyond explanation – Arizona outscored Florida 15-0. What we saw from most of the night is Florida is a grown man team who has the right mix of top level guys with excellent role players mixed in. It seems like everyone on that team knows exactly what is expected of one another. The loss has to be deflating due to; a) Obviously, giving the game away. b) Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin played fantastic and hit shots. On the other hand, maybe they should be encouraged by being in that position with a dreadful performance from Kenny Boynton on the road? Arizona is about what you expect – Lyons (love him or hate him) does bring a toughness and ability to find his own shot. Solomon Hill is solid in all aspects and the trio of freshman bigs are ahead of schedule. All that could have been asked of the front line was to battle and they did so (also helping matters was moving Hill over to the 4 spot later on). In the end, they stole a significant win to go on their resume. Those were two Elite 8 quality clubs getting after it. (And I don’t want to gloss over Arizona winning the game but Sean Miller said himself he wasn’t sure whether or not to feel guilty.)

While Rick Pitino’s protege let one get away, the teacher took one back in Memphis. Louisville rallied from an early 16 point hole to eventually put away Memphis. John Wooden once had a quote (I can’t find it) about switching defenses that essentially said, switching defenses is the result of not having any defense. Needless to say, that seems a little dated. Pitino’s teams of late have been thriving on giving different looks to opposing offenses. They give the traditional match-up press look that we’re accustom to seeing with  Pitino and then they can drop back into their match-up zone or man to man defense. To note here is the center often takes on the most responsibility in the half-court match up zone with the reliance on communication. Louisville currently is without Gorgui Dieng and is still playing at a high level defensively – holding Memphis to 53 points over the last 30 minutes in an up-tempo game. The level of play is only set to increase when he returns.

I don’t know how you stop Doug McDermott. I don’t think you can. To go along with his insane shooting from 3 (27-51), he seals defenders in the post as well as anyone and has great ability in the mid-range. He doesn’t defend much (at all) and it still isn’t stopping him from being one of the best players in the country. Cal didn’t stand much of a chance on Saturday night and a positive sign for Creighton is how well they defended, limiting Allen Crabbe to 6-26 shooting. On Cal, it’s become increasingly frustrating to watch a team with some good to great college players (Jerome Randle, Patrick Christopher, Harper Kamp, Jorge Guiterrez, Crabbe, Justin Cobbs) just not have the help on thin rosters. Mike Montgomery does a fine job with what he has and Cal isn’t the easiest place to recruit to, but an extra player or two on some of these teams would lead to more success against top teams. As seen here, Cal is just too reliant on the back court duo of Cobbs and Crabbe:

cal

It’s interesting that Myles Mack and Fuquan Edwin are the best players from the now defunct Patterson Catholic program and not Kyle Anderson. Mack has emerged as the best guard and player in the Rutgers program while Edwin keeps trending upward for Seton Hall:

fu

I’m not sure how many players have ever utilized a redshirt season like Kelly Olynyk. I don’t know the amount of muscle Olynyk has put on, but it’s substantial and is leading to a player who looks like he has an NBA future. He’s now averaging 15 points and 6.6 rebounds in only 25 minutes of play.

Speaking of Gonzaga, they have to be at the top of the ‘Catholic 7′ wish list with Butler. I’ve long ago stopped trying to figure out how Butler does it. I believe Indiana is overrated this season but to win that game in OT with the players left on the floor? Impressive. Also, not to discredit Brad Steven’s genius – but we all could have figured out to isolate Jordan Hulls on the last play.

I know Chris Fouch is out for the year but I can’t explain Drexel. Frantz Massenat and Damion Lee can’t get you better than a 3-7 start?

Villanova has made big strides in 3 weeks time. They’re still a bottom feeder in the Big East but after their start, to rebound with wins @ Penn, vs St Joe’s and vs Delaware is a good sign for their young core. Somebody got the message to Arcidiacono to pass the ball and not heave 30 footers and that helps.

On lessened roles, it seems Mikael Hopkins is at least starting to defer more for Georgetown. It has resulted in two positive steps forward for the Georgetown offense, which in my estimation looked it’s best since Brooklyn on Saturday. It certainly helped that Greg Whittington broke out of his slump. If Whittington can find his stroke, then this can improve:
3pt

Marcus Paige vs Mike Gesell is probably something Iowa fans will debate for a while. The two have been linked together as they faced off in High School and Paige was courted by Iowa until UNC landed him. Iowa was able to land a very nice consolation prize in Gesell – now it appears as if Iowa may have won that trade off. Gesell is playing off the ball some but looks like a steady four year college PG and eventual All Big 10 player. It’s not to say Paige has performed poorly or won’t be a strong player in his own right but Gesell looks to be physically stronger and more advanced right now nearly across the board. Iowa also picked up a nice neutral court win vs Northern Iowa. The Hawkeyes are positioning themselves to be in the hunt for an NCAA bid as the year progresses.

gesell

I happened to catch some of A&M and Oklahoma and it’s still creepy how lifeless the A&M sideline is under Billy Kennedy, I don’t know what gives. OU fans should be excited about the future back court of Je’lon Hornbeak and Buddy Hield.

I had Purdue penciled in to finish 2nd to last in the Big 10 (pre- Tim Frazier injury). I questioned if I wasn’t giving Matt Painter enough respect. Well, they might finish 10th now but that’s it. The talent level among the upperclassmen is atrocious and the FR are not impact players.

Alabama was literally minutes away from a 7-0 start with a huge road win @ Cincinnati. Instead, they couldn’t close the door and now have followed that with a bad home loss vs Dayton and embarrassing trip to VCU. The silver lining has to be a strong performance from Devonta Pollard (finally).

When’s the last time you’ve seen a coach play a Box and 1 exclusively for a whole game? Tim Cluess (of all people) did it vs Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and somehow it worked. Iona has had some tough losses and likely was due for a close win. Not the most impressive day on the job for Mark Fox whose team had the ball in a tie game with the shot clock off and took a shot – with 17 seconds left.

South Dakota St and Nate Wolters fetch a lot of buzz but I’d put North Dakota St in the memory bank for March. Just a hunch.

After watching them twice now, I just don’t see Belmont being a threat this year to be Cinderella. Last years team seems like the better group. No shame in getting blown out in Phog Allen but also didn’t come away that impressed with the Bruins vs Middle Tennessee St. They struggle with physicality and length, it makes it very difficult to get the looks that they want on offense. Ben McLemore stole the show on the KU side of things and he looks more impressive each day.

I’ve talked before about Syracuse’s think back court. Just how thin? Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams rank #1 and #2 nationally in average plus/minus (+25 and +24.6). Granted, it’s an extremely small sample – but a look at just how crucial those two are to stay healthy and out of foul trouble this season. It also is likely when MCW’s ‘incident’ this past week did not lead to a suspension against an upstart Canisius team.

Trey Burke is silly good. I mean, there isn’t much else to say. His blend of scoring and facilitating at the PG position is tops in the country right now. Also credit to John Beilein, I’ve never been much of a fan but that’s starting to change – no longer is he employing much (if any) of his trademark 1-3-1 zone and his players attack on offense and the reliance on the 3 ball has come down this year. I realize this started to become the case last year as well, I’m just a little late arriving. Seeing is believing. Not to say they’ll win it all or even be a Final 4 team – but it kind of feels like there is a little ’97 or ’98 Arizona to this Michigan team in the back court:

chart_1 (1)

chart_1 (2)

Kyle Wiltjer off the bench now? It might do some good for UK putting Poythress in the 4 spot and provide more offense by getting a third guard on the floor more often. Harrow had 12 points and 0 turnovers. Baby steps. While he’s certainly raw shooting the ball or operating with his back to the basket it is worth mentioning Nerlens Noel is averaging 2.1 assists, 9 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 3.9 blocks.

Skylar Spencer was on my watch list for unheralded freshman. He’s carved his way into the rotation for a strong San Diego St team and while his numbers are modest (3.3 and 4.0 rebounds with 1.3 blocks in 14.9 minutes) I’m excited to see he and Winston Shepard develop in that freshman class. We know the SDSU staff can develop talent.

To go along with Anthony Ireland at Loyola Marymount, Evan Roquemore needs more attention coming from the West Coast. Kevin Foster scores more and Marc Tarsolini is a big story off of his injury for Santa Clara but Roquemore is reason as any for a strong start. The junior guard is 14, 7 and 3 with a shooting line of 53/44/83.

Rearranging The Big East, This Year (Vol. 2)

Picking up where I left off:

7. Marquette

First off, I don’t think I overrated anyone’s impact in this conference more than Trent Lockett’s. It’s not only that he hasn’t been an impact guy, if anything he’s impacted Marquette negatively while on the floor. Maybe you need to be wired a little differently to play for Buzz, I don’t know. But Lockett is struggling and without Todd Mayo this year that makes Marquette a far less formidable team than I had pegged this season. Lockett was 13, 6 and 2 at Arizona State on 49% shooting. This year he’s 8, 4 and 2 on 40%.

To help offset that, Vander Blue has made real progress on the offensive end. Blue along with Davante Gardner (the oddest player in CBB) have become the go to scorers for Marquette along with small doses from Junior Cadougan and Jamil Wilson. Blue has gone for 21, 18 and 17 against Butler, Florida and Wisconsin while shooting 50% or above in each of those games.

The offense probably is what it will be without many shooting threats. The concern for now has to be that Marquette is not defending to the level they did last year, now allowing 46% on 2PT shots. With capable defenders there is room for growth on that end.

Over the next 3 weeks: A trip to Wisconsin-Green Bay and a home date with LSU could make for a competitive game or two. Marquette opens the BE slate with Uconn at home. Due to how hard they play, there’s a high floor here but the ceiling is not quite what I thought it could be sans Mayo and Lockett’s struggles. I’m not sure what on the current roster can change that and push this team into the top end of the conference.

How to beat them: Match their energy, at least for 75% of the game. Marquette will have a stretch or two each game where they look phenomenal. But they have their lulls and you just have to stick with it – they’ll let you back in. I also would show them a lot of zone this season. The only Coach/Team they faced so far that utilizes zone well was Florida – and that ended up 82-49.

8. Uconn

What has to be encouraging for Uconn is that they’re performing well without getting much from Omar Calhoun (my pre-season pick for ROY). His early struggles have been mitigated due to the fact that Shabazz Napier is playing at an All-American level without feeling the need to be Kemba Walker 2.0. Napier can still get a little trigger happy but has been much more selective this season. Helping matters is Ryan Boatright allowing Napier to play off the ball much more this season.

DeAndre Daniels improvement while embracing being an undersized 4 man certainly has helped and Uconn has to be encouraged by Enosch Wolf showing signs of life in his SO season.

But the upside of this team is still limited and the reliance on the guards may take its toll. RJ Evans is providing flashbacks to Khalid El-Amin for the wrong reasons and Tyler Olander is in a little over his head. Nothing statistically stands out. It’s a very poor rebounding team (expected), above average defensively (nice surprise) and struggling to make shots (somewhat disappointing). One thing Kevin Ollie is making sure of: These kids play hard. Jim Calhoun would have a team every once in a while that just packed it in, I don’t get that sense with Ollie and this group.

Over the next 3 weeks: Only three games, one of which is a ‘name game’ vs Washington. From there, not the easiest 5 game BE start: @ Marquette, vs DePaul, @ ND, vs Louisville and @ Pitt.

How to beat them: Pound the boards and get the ball inside. NC State eventually wore them down by doing so. Defensively, I’d throw a good amount of zone at them – turn Daniels or Olander into a decision maker.

9. Seton Hall

You could make a case for St. John’s here or even Providence playing with 0 bench players or have the belief USF will get things going (I don’t). I’ll go with Seton Hall, since they have the best player of the bunch: Fuquan Edwin.

Edwin is currently posting a line of: 18.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.8 steals per game while shooting 54% from the field and 18-33 (54%) from 3. Yet nobody ever talks about him. I’m at fault myself for only squeezing him into an All Big East 3rd team pre-season. I haven’t seen a player with his hands on defense in a while, he is a ball hawk in every sense.

Patrik Auda was lost for the season and is a tough loss for SHU but the supporting cast of Gene Teague, Brandon Mobley, Tom Maayan, Aaron Cosby, Kyle Smyth and Brian Oliver isn’t terrible.

Seton Hall is proving to have nice balance. Ranking 7th in the league in points per poss and 6th in points allowed per.

Over the next 3 weeks: Nothing of importance until the opener at DePaul. From an individual stand point, I’d like to see Brandon Mobley get it going a little bit and Brian Oliver certainly has to be better.

How to beat them: Pressure the guards. Maayan is a freshman and doing an admirable job but Seton Hall is 13th in the league in TO rate. Additionally, with Auda out – Teague is the only Pirate player with real size on the interior. Getting him in foul trouble would pose a problem.

10. St. John’s

Interesting team the Johnnies are and for the good of the true Big East, it’d be nice to see the core parts stick together for a few years. The St. John’s staff may evaluate talent about as well as any team in the league right now. Completely under the radar kids such as Christian Jones, Phil Greene and Felix Balamou look to be capable BE rotation guys. To go along with that the kids they put two feet in with (Mo Harkless, Jakarr Sampson, Chris Obekpa) trend towards NBA caliber players.

Sampson has zero perimeter skill but his length and athleticism might be unmatched in the league and is impacting games with his natural gifts. Obekpa might already be the nations best shot blocker as a freshman. D’Angelo Harrison is likely the bellwether for this group. If he’s on, SJU will be a tough out. If not, SJU will not score many points.

SJU currently ranks 9th in the league in points per poss. A number they could live with this season. Defensively, they’ve struggled and have so the past 2 seasons, even with Mike Dunlap before he departed to the NBA. I’m not sure what the fix on defense is, they’re playing more man to man this year and extending pressure but still poor results. Even with such a shot blocker like Obekpa on the back line.

Over the next 3 weeks: 2 cucpcakes until the opener at Villanova. I’m not sure why so many teams are taking a Christmas/New Years two week break from games – but they are. May make for a rough watch of the first batch of conference games.

How to beat them: Zone or man, you can slow SJU down so long as you stay within distance of Harrison. He’s attempted 59 threes compared to the 48 the rest of the team has taken (13-48).

11. Providence

There’s reason for optimism now for Providence, so – I’ll give them the nod here. Vincent Council, Kris Dunn and Sidiki Johnson are all expected back for the Big East season.

In the mean time, Providence has somehow willed their way to 7-2 with 6 scholarship players (and Bryce Cotton has been banged up to boot). Ed Cooley has PC defending at a high level (23rd nationally in points allowed per poss.) There are seemingly only 4 kids allowed to shoot the basketball between Cotton, Henton, Fortune and Batts so offensive struggles are to be expected. Even if Dunn and Council have some rust to knock off in their first few games back, they’re at least a threat on the floor.

Over the next 3 weeks: Johnson and Dunn are scheduled to return vs Colgate which is followed up by a trip to Boston College and a home date with Brown. From there, they’re the lucky winners that get to start @ Louisville.

How to beat them: It will be interesting to see how the new parts work their way in. My guess is a 3 guard lineup to pair with Henton/Batts and Fortune moves to the bench. Council and Dunn will be able to break people down off the dribble so zone isn’t a bad move this BE season. Defensively, the interior defense is weak – so don’t settle.

12. USF

USF is still playing dreadfully slow and letting Anthony Collins try to make something happen. The problem is, the team lost a lot of size from last season and the defense has slipped along with the rebounding. The defense is still solid, but not the good to great defense that they employed last year.

The best improvement on offense is they are protecting the ball better. Their turnover rate is 16.6%, down from 21% last year.

This has always been a team with limited upside this year to me, unless Victor Rudd made a big jump. So far, that has not been the case as he still can’t shoot (8-26 from 3).

Over the next 3 weeks: Youngstown St, Bowling Green, George Mason and @ UCF isn’t exactly a group of pushovers. Not great, but not awful by any stretch. That group of games should give us a better feel of what USF can be before they take on Syracuse to open.

How to beat them: You can’t let Collins feel comfortable. I personally like the idea of pressuring him or putting a longer, athletic defender on him. You also don’t want to get in a game in the 50’s with USF – so I’d try to control tempo and create more possessions.

13. Villanova

Really splitting hairs at this point. But at least Villanova is starting to move in a positive direction after knocking off St. Joseph’s this week. Ryan Arcidiacono has started to scale back his shot attempts, and Villanova mucks it up just enough to stay in games. Also, if you haven’t caught ‘Nova this year – you’ll notice an even more insufferable Jay Wright. He’s working the referees like no other this year.

I still think there’s an All Big East caliber offensive player inside of Jayvaughn Pinkston, but I’m not sure we’ll ever see it. Some okay parts make up the rest of the rotation but with the minutes and responsibility on his plate this year – Arcidiacono will determine their fate by and large.

Statistically, they’re 15th (15th is now last without West Virginia) in the league in points per poss and 14th in points allowed per poss. Mucking it up is their best bet at this point. They extend games – draw fouls, commit fouls – it won’t get them very far, but right now there’s not many other options.

Over the next 3 weeks: 3 games left, headlined by Delaware. They just need to get better, in all facets. Tuesday night was a good step in the right direction.

How to beat them: Run your stuff, don’t settle. Put Arcidiacono and Yarou/Sutton in pick and roll situations. Defensively, just try not to lose James Bell as a spot up shooter and keep Pinkston contained.

14. Rutgers

Myles Mack is making a pretty strong FR to SO year leap, which is much needed for Rutgers. Mack is currently averaging 14.8 points on 57% and 46% from 3 (12-26). Eli Carter is leading Rutgers in scoring but has not been nearly as efficient.

Dane Miller once held a lot of potential as a FR in the Big East. Now, he’s finishing out his career as an average BE role player. To go along with that, there just isn’t much help for the back court. Wally Judge hasn’t made a big impact yet and the loss of Biruta last spring to Rhode Island appears significant inside.

Rutgers is currently last in the Big East in points allowed per poss. but a respectable offensive output so far, 7th in points per.

Over the next 3 weeks: UAB and Rider could/should be competitive games. Rutgers opens with a trip to the Carrier Dome. Somebody has to step up to help Mack/Carter and the defense needs to improve.

How to beat them: Just be patient. Ole Miss is far from disciplined but they continued to stick with things eventually wore down Rutgers inside and Rutgers could not get stops in their most high profile game to date. You have to guard the perimeter well and cut off driving lanes, they are not going to score points through a low-post scorer.

15. DePaul

I’m really not sure that DePaul is the worst team in this league. Actually, I’m almost sure they won’t be – but until they prove otherwise, I have to stick them here. They were competitive with Wichita St, won @ Auburn, beat Fairfield, won @ Arizona State and overall have played decently. Statistically, they currently are 13th among BE teams in points per poss but a nice improvement to 8th (and 49th nationally) in points allowed per poss.

The roster has more experience this year as Cleveland Melvin, Brandon Young, Moses Morgan and Donovan Kirk are all JR’s. Melvin and Young have both improved their play – evidenced by a PER of 16.4 for Melvin and 16.0 for Young. An improvement from 13.4 and 12.7 last season.

DePaul still can’t shoot (30%) from 3, but there are signs of an improving program.

Over the next 3 weeks: Three more games they should win until they open BE play vs Seton Hall. This is another team that needs another scoring option. Jamee Crockett had 13 the other night in a win – his second game back from injury – and is likely the guy who is needed to step up.

How to beat them: It’s not as simple as just showing up anymore. Handle the pressure and look to attack to score. Play zone and keep Melvin off of the glass.

Since I’m re-shuffling the standings – here’s a redo at some awards:

POY: Otto Porter. No need to change this. Otto’s been pretty darn good despite being sidelined for a game (and 30 or so minutes) with a concussion. Michael Carter-Williams and Sean Kilpatrick figure to be in the thick of this race. Darkhorse: Fuquan Edewin.

COY: Rick Pitino. Keeping the same choice here. I still expect Louisville to be firing on all cylinders come February/March.

Freshman of The Year: It’s a weak FR group in the Big East this season. I picked Omar Calhoun and still feel okay about that, but the smart money might now be on Jakarr Sampson.

1st Team All Big East:

G: Russ Smith

G: Sean Kilpatrick

G : Michael Carter-Williams

F: Otto Porter

C: Jack Cooley

Honorable mention: Bryce Cotton, Shabazz Napier, Jack Cooley, Fuquan Edwin.

Rearranging the Big East, This Year (Vol. 1)

No, not conference realignment.

How about this year? We’re a little over a month in and starting to get a better feel for who is what around college basketball.

My original BE thoughts.

For now..

1. Louisville

I’ll stick with the Cards, but here’s the issue: they can’t shoot the ball from 3 so far. Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear (the two designated shooters entering the year) are a combined 21-82. Russ Smith and Peyton Siva together are shooting at a combined 35% rate which is very encouraging. If Hancock and Blackshear join them this problem is mostly solved- if not- an already overly reliant defensive team is strained even more.

Behanan hasn’t quite made the type of jump I expected. The early season off-court issues that resulted in a suspension were a concern and he has yet to kick into gear. The good news is that Montrez Harrell is physically the best prospect on the Louisville roster.

A somewhat troubling sign for now also has to be the defense, while they are turning people over at an absurd 30% rate the FG% defense is a pedestrian 46%.

Over the next 3 weeks: Louisville still has a road date with Memphis and the showdown with UK – so it’s not exactly packing it in before conference play. Gorgui Dieng needs to keep progressing health-wise, and somebody on the wing has to start shooting the ball. I’m not so concerned about the defense.

Where to beat them: Protect the ball. Cut off penetration from Siva and Smith.

2. Syracuse

My idea of 2-6 in this league being interchangeable doesn’t look as accurate with each Syracuse game (unfortunately). Nor does Louisville being a runaway winner.

Syracuse is elite defensively across the board. Top 15 nationally in defensive points per poss, FG%, 2PT FG%, 3PT FG%, TO%, and blocks per game.

What has been overlooked in recent years due to all the talk about their defense and ‘length’ in the 2-3 zone is just how great Syracuse is in transition. For my money, they’ve been the best in the country in recent years. They are playing at a 77 possession rate per game – a sign that once again, they want to run and Michael Carter-Williams is making a significant jump and leading the way.

Over the next 3 weeks: Can somebody besides James Southerland become a threat from 3 point range? Outside of his shooting prowess the Syracuse team is 25-99 from 3 (25%). Syracuse has mildly interesting games against Canisius, Detroit and Temple among others before BE play. Which starts with: vs Rutgers, @ USF, @ Providence, vs Villanova. My guess, they’re not losing for a while.

Where to beat them: Do not lose Southerland, had Arkansas done so that game in Bud Walton may have been much more interesting. Protect the ball and control tempo.

3. Cincinnati

I had Cincinnati 6th in the jumbled mess prior to the year. They’re guard play coupled with a few energy guys up front is pushing them closer to the top of the pack.

With the trio of senior guards, UC is pushing the ball at 77.8 possessions per game. That is roughly 10 possessions higher than the average of Mick Cronin’s tenure. UC is balanced on both ends: 4th in the BE in points per poss and 2nd in points allowed per poss. Wright, Kilpatrick and Parker are all shooting the 3 ball at above a 40% clip.

Titus Rubles has added another able body to the roster. Although he is struggling to find his shot now (40% and 1-15 from 3), Rubles does have some perimeter skills to go with his athleticism. In time, he could be the 4th option that the Bearcats need.

Over the next 3 weeks: Mick Cronin beefed up his schedule this season and now has wins over Iowa State, Oregon and Alabama to show for it with games still to come against Marshall, Xavier and New Mexico. Can somebody offer more of a presence along side the guards? Jackson, Rubles, Nyarsuk and Mbodj have all been okay to above average, but not much more.

Where to beat them: At first I thought you may want to make them play you out of a zone while at the same time forcing Rubles or Justin Jackson into an uncomfortable position in the middle of it (or forcing one of their guards in there). But, after seeing Alabama physically succeed with aggressive man to man defense, I’m not sure. I’d chalk this one up to TBD, right now it’s a balanced team with no significant weaknesses but not an overwhelming amount of talent.

4. Notre Dame

What’s interesting here is that while Mike Brey has a very good set of experienced guards he seems committed to playing slow over the long haul now. Which I was interested in seeing if that would be the case this year.

Over the next 3 weeks: There’s not much aside from a home date from Purdue (and that’s essentially playing a low-major right now anyhow). ND would be well served for Pat Connaughton to start shooting the ball better from 3 (31%) along with Cameron Biedscheid’s continued development.

Where to beat them: I’ve yet to see a team get as physically overwhelmed as Notre Dame did against St. Joseph’s. That said, ND proceeded to have their way with Kentucky and now St. Joe’s is struggling. Just an anomaly? We’ll see, but that scene in Brooklyn will be hard to forget it. Attack the rim, pressure and make ND uncomfortable. Part of slotting them 4th currently would be how difficult it is to beat them in South Bend, that advantage isn’t going anywhere.

5. Georgetown

If Georgetown wants a positive with the offensive struggles, consider: the team is shooting 46.2% only 3 tenths off from last season and actually better inside the 3pt line at 52.8%. The issues would be the 3pt shooting is the lowest in the JTIII era at 30.2% as well as FT shooting 63.5%. It could be as simple as III says, ‘just not making shots’ although the playing the offense through Mikael Hopkins issue brings about other questions.

In the end, ‘just not making shots’ may be a result of a poor shooting team to coincide with having a sophomore center. Keep in mind that Georgetown’s centers under III have either been future 1st round picks or seniors. Hopkins currently is neither. But back to the point; Starks is streaky, Whittington is off right now, Smith-Rivera struggles to create space, Domingo has freshman jitters (let’s hope) and Trawick is not known for his shooting ability.

Good news is the Hoya’s are protecting the ball slightly better and the defense remains strong. To go along with that, Markel Starks and Nate Lubick are both having very good junior seasons thus far. Lubick actually holds the 2nd highest PER on the team with a stat line of 8, 5.8 and 3.4 to go along with 62% shooting.

A positive sign from this past weekend was the increased use of pressure defense to force turnovers and points. Does that strategy gain traction as the Hoyas enter BE play? Personally, I hope so. And that Otto Porter can play a little ball.

Over the next 3 weeks: Greg Whittington has to find the jump shot he had last March. Hopkins role needs to be reduced one way or another. A weak slate of games until the opener at Marquette.

Where to beat them: Nothing outside the norm. Take away cutters or play zone. Pressure in the back court.

6. Pitt

Are they back? I’d have to lean toward yes more than no right now. They outplayed Michigan for 30 minutes on a neutral floor in the their one real test so far. Beyond that they’ve taken care of business outside of the Oakland game that was handed to them.

Maybe the secret will finally be out that Pitt is an offense first program, not defense. The Ben Howland days are long gone and the DNA of a Pitt has been for a while; Great offense, great rebounding, middling defense. Same story this year. 2nd nationally in points per poss, 56.5% rebound rate and 61st in FG%.

Over the next 3 weeks: Cupcakes until a great New Year’s Eve tilt with Cincinnati. Pitt has to hope Steven Adams can progress further than what he has shown so far. He’s been a nice addition, but not the game changer people had hoped for.

How to beat them: Make them guard. They’re still a slow team and you should be able to get to where you want on the floor. Limit them to one possession and defend the interior. Make them play from the outside.

Tomorrow I’ll hope to look at the other 2/3’s of the league.

Some Thoughts

Georgetown’s offense is offensive. A couple of solutions: A) Mikael Hopkins role is reduced in the offense by JTIII. B) Mikael Hopkins recognizes his own struggles and reduces his own role on the offense. C) Nate Lubick becomes the 5 man. Hopkins is functioning as the hub of the Princeton Offense at a usage rate of 29%. This is drastically high for what should be the 5th option in the starting lineup. Georgetown teams of past have had their highest usage rates allocated to the Center spot but it can’t be that way this year. Hopkins is not Jeff Green (’05), Roy Hibbert (’06-’08), Greg Monroe (’09-’10) or even Henry Sims (’12). His ability is most similar to Julian Vaughn. In 2010-2011, Julian Vaughn deferred to Chris Wright and Austin Freeman as they led the team in usage rate and Vaughn posted a 22% mark. That’s where this needs to head with Otto Porter and Greg Whittington carrying the load. If Hopkins can not scale back or be put in a more acceptable role with the ability he does possess – the offensive struggles will remain all season. Running your offense through someone who holds the lowest FG%, FT%, EFG%, Assist to TO rate, and efficiency per possession is a disaster waiting to happen come Big East play.

Did you see Anthony Bennett play last night? If not, go watch a replay on ESPN3. I haven’t seen any player physically impose their will on a game like that this season. Bennett also has skills to go along with his Larry Johnson-like frame as he more comfortable playing facing up right now and does it extremely well. His post defense has a long way to go (seriously, if Mike Montgomery is running plays to post Robert Thurman – it needs work), but Bennett is now averaging 19.5 and 8.2 in only 28 minutes a game. His PER now checks in at 20.8, about two points higher than the next freshman (Nerlens Noel, 18.7) and good for 8th nationally.

On UNLV, we’ll see how long Moser is out but the real issue has to be how far they can go with Anthony Marshall as a full time PG. He’s a pretty damn good basketball player who defends and makes plays with his athleticism but on the ball for 35 minutes? It’s just rough at times for UNLV, particularly if Bryce Dejean-Jones and Katin Reinhardt aren’t making shots. (Lucky for UNLV, Jones was last night).

I don’t think anyone had team other than UNLV or San Diego State picked to win the MWC this year. But, here is New Mexico sitting at 10-0 while playing a solid non conference schedule with perhaps the best trio of guards in the league.

Allen Crabbe is one of the tougher covers in CBB running off screens. It’s too bad the idiotic ‘elbow rule’ put him on the bench for half of the first half last night. Perhaps a different outcome if he was out there when UNLV made their run.

It’s hard not to like Arizona. You just wish that one or two of their FR bigs could be put in a time machine to make them SO’s right now. I have no idea if they’re ready to take on Florida this Saturday, but come March this team really could be strong. They have all the parts – probably short of a great shooter – and go 8 strong in the rotation. There was nothing pretty about their win at Clemson, but Clemson guards really well and Littlejohn is not an easy place to play. Arizona withstood a run and then shut the door late.

UCLA . Well, I’d be stunned if Howland is back next season. They are too slow to guard anyone and Shabazz looks 1-2 months away from what we expected to see just from a physical stand point.

There’s not many players I’d rather watch on defense than Fuquan Edwin. And there aren’t many other teams that can blow that Seton Hall game like Wake Forest did.

Amazing that USC was laying points to Illinois on a neutral floor 3 weeks ago, isn’t it? Brandon Paul has to be in the thick of any POY discussions right now. My thought this year is that if you have good guards and possess any skill – you can find success this season. Illinois might be the best example of it so far.

Wisconsin does not have the guard play to do anything this year despite what KenPom might pump out. Bo Ryan is yet to trust George Marshall for whatever reason and Traevon Jackson is brutal. Speaking of brutal, Trent Lockett has to get in gear at some point for Marquette, right? I had his impact overrated coming into the Marquette program but so far his only impact is a negative one on the floor.

Is it possible that 5 years from now Ben McLemore could be the best of the 2011 St. Louis area trio of BJ Young, Brad Beal and himself?

Syracuse isn’t losing for a while. They’ve yet to play someone who matches up well with them and will not until Temple (who likely doesn’t have the talent level in MSG to win). The BE slate kicks off with vs Rutgers, @ USF, @ Providence and vs Villanova until their trip to Louisville on 1/19. Don’t be surprised if they’re unbeaten going into it.

Deonte Burton needs some help. His 29 was good enough to win @ Washington but Burton is only flanked by a one dimensional Malik Story and nobody else of substance. It’s too bad.

Michigan and Duke are hitting on all cylinders right now. Again, if you have skill this season – you will find success. I just wonder where they stand as more teams progress throughout the year and into March. Very high floors with both of these teams, though.

Want to know what Mitch Buonaguro did at Fairfield after inheriting a great team left to him that went 24-7 with in his first season? 15-16, 8-20, 7-21, 10-19, 8-20. Siena thought it would be a good idea to leave what Fran McCaffery built to him. They’ll be lucky to win 8 or 9 games this season.

Speaking of McCaffery, Iowa will have a chance to put themselves on the bubble this year and had a great win vs Iowa State on Friday. Next year? All meaningful rotation players will return and so will a spot in the Top 25 for the Hawkeyes.

Again, not ready to say Chris Obekpa is a better shot blocker than Nerlens but it’s getting more difficult. 11 more for Obekpa on Saturday.

Ole Miss reminds me of Craig Esherick’s Georgetown teams. They look the part in the layup line but don’t provide much skill or the ability to close out games once they play good competition.

I was wrong about Manhattan and Niagara this year, but feel good about Canisius making a big leap. They may even find themselves winning the MAAC. Off to a 2-0 start in the league and bringing talent like Alshwan Hymes and Freddy Asprilla off the bench, a luxury other MAAC teams do not have.

Dominic Artis and Jahii Carson are both controlling their teams in ways I wasn’t sure they could of in the Pac 12 during their early FR campaigns. Kudos to them.

It’s a weak slate of hoops this week. My one recommendation would be to check out St. Joes on Tuesday night if you missed them in Brooklyn. Ronald Roberts and CJ Aiken fly around the rim like few others.

Just for fun:

My Top 10 (quality of play more than anything):

1. Florida
2. Duke
3. Indiana
4. Syracuse
5. Michigan
6. Louisville
7. Arizona
8. Kansas
9. Cincinnati
10. Illinois

My Top 5 Freshman (Quality of play + talent + importance to team):

1. Anthony Bennett
2. Nerlens Noel
3. Ben McLemore
4. Marcus Smart
5. Glenn Robinson III

Opening Week Thoughts

Why not start here? Kentucky is still really good. Maybe there are unrealistic expectations set up now. Why else have this team picked apart two games in without their PG? Take a step back and you see a team playing without it’s PG and having three freshman as their best players. This experience is only going to pay off in the long run, especially for a kid like Archie Goodwin forced into playing PG. Nerlens Noel is going to keep improving and if Calipari gets Alex Poythress to play as hard as he did last night vs Duke – this is going to be as tough of an out as there is in March.

Duke will be Duke. My pick to win the ACC and be a Top 5 team all year. Mason Plumlee is really, really good and Rasheed Sulaimon was shot in the arm on the perimeter.

Pierre Jackson is a dark-horse candidate to win NPOY. There may not be a better PG in college that can blend scoring and facilitating as well Jackson, through two games he has been in complete control.

Kansas still runs some really freaking good offense, but how good can it be without great interior players on offense? Since 2005, KU has had: Wayne Simien, Sasha Kaun, Darnell Jackson, Julian Wright, Darrell Arthur, Cole Aldrich, Morris Twins and Thomas Robinson. That type of talent inside on offense has led to outstanding action off of their high-low sets and feeding the post. Evident last night is that Jeff Withey and the trio of Kevin Young, Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor don’t have the skill or experience to execute and finish plays like those before them. It also can’t help that Danny Manning is no longer around. KU will be terrific again this year – they’ll defend and they’ll score enough – but offensively there is no way they can sustain the run they’ve had.

MSU had the most impressive Game 1 to Game 2 turnaround you can find. They couldn’t run any offense vs Uconn. Just dreadful stuff and then they come out and execute vs KU to the tune of 52%. It helps when shots start dropping from Keith Appling and Gary Harris – but the action was 100% better. As a friend pointed out, it’s obvious Denzel Valentine is Izzo’s new ‘Day Day’ isn’t it? I don’t totally mean that as a compliment, either.

UCONN is in good shape. Roles have been defined by default, and things fit together much better. There was really only one option for a lineup this year (Napier/Boatright/Calhoun/Daniels/Olander) and that’s what has given Uconn a quick start. The MSU win was impressive, it also was impressive to dispatch of a quality Vermont team after returning from Germany. I don’t know how long Uconn’s front court can hold up over the grind of a Big East season, but as long as they compete – the guard play will go along way.

West Virginia can’t throw the ball in the ocean. This is a real problem, there is not one shooter on that WVU team and very little skill. Scoring points is likely a season long issue.

How good can the Gonzaga back court be by the time they finish their career? Pangos and Bell are almost already as good as it gets as SO’s.

Even though Scott Suggs left last night’s game with a concussion, UW can’t lose to Albany. With Seton Hall, Colorado St, St. Louis, Nevada, and Uconn still on the schedule there’s more than enough time to improve the resume but any more missteps will make things difficult. Why would Lorenzo Romar institute a high-post offense with the collection of guards he has? Not that they’re spectacular but it sure beats the front court options.

Allen Crabbe is staking his early claim for Pac XII POY. He has 62 points in 60 minutes of play on 21-35 shooting (8-12 from 3 and also 10-11 from the line). The competition hasn’t been good, but if he’s this assertive, he’ll make a leap from really good player on the West Coast to a really good damn player nationally.

One of his back court mates isn’t bad either in Justin Cobbs. And this looks foolish: http://www.cbssports.com/collegebasketball/story/20643571

People had the Michigan FR class confused. Mitch McGary is not the best of the bunch or even second. Glenn Robinson III and Nick Stauskas are.

Jay Wright has a really good guard in Ryan Arcidiacono, who completely outclassed DeAndre Kane in their match up on Sunday. Kane, by the way is not a PG. That is obvious.

I didn’t believe it when people said Chris Opekpa could give Nerlens Noel a run for his money as a shot blocker. I still give a decided edge to Noel but through a pair of exhibition games and a home opener vs Detroit, it’s clear Opekpa is an elite shot blocker. He’s played 76 minutes in those 3 appearances and blocked 22 shots. Seriously.

On the topic of shot-blockers, Jeff Withey’s presence is overstated. I will never understand how people slotted him on pre-season All American teams or even the NPOY selection an ESPN expert gave him.

Miami has lost an exhibition game to St. Leo, barely got by Stetson and lost to Florida Gulf Coast. I had them as a Top 20 team. I am a fool.

Kevin O’Neill finally has himself a team again. If there’s a team that may break through in Maui it could be the Trojans. Opener vs Illinois then vs Texas to advance to the title game? That’s doable, especially with Myck Kabongo on the sidelines.

Ryan Anderson of Boston College may get talked up the most on the dreadful team in Chestnut Hill, but Olivier Hanlan will prove to be their best player and one of the better lead guards in the ACC by his JR year.

Vincent Council is out a month. Providence has 6 scholarship players without him. And ‘6’ is by definition only.

Through two games, Marshall Henderson has 49 points and has attempted 24 threes (making 11 of them). Andy Kennedy has given him the green light and figures to be one of the more entertaining players in the SEC. From reports he is somewhere in between extremely confident and an asshole.

Jerrelle Benimon posted a line of 23, 5 and 5. The year is 2012.

Today’s picks:

Wisconsin +6 1/2

Santa Clara +14

Newcomers to Watch: Part 1

Certain players fall under the cracks in High School. Perhaps a growth spurt, not playing AAU ball or just evolving later on in a High School career. They exist, but not easy to find as Grassroots Talent Experts often don’t get around to see everyone late in their careers and rankings reflect that – those who haven’t progressed as once thought hold onto a national ranking and those emerging don’t quite make it. Maybe it’s hedging their bets – perhaps the hope is well known names make a comeback and the late bloomers are false hope. Or just not totally trusting what they are being told from contacts around the country.

As an example, a player like CJ Barksdale of Virginia Tech had been on the scene for years and while he never developed into the 4 or even 5 star prospect folks thought was possible in his sophomore year he still maintained a Top 80 ranking. On the other hand, another 6’8 player from the Washington/Maryland/Virginia section of hoops, Greg Whittington, was an unheralded recruit who turned things up his SR year and was courted heavily by Georgetown and Maryland. Georgetown won out and while Whittington never appeared in any Top 150 lists at Scout, Rivals or ESPN – he played a major part for Georgetown last year and returns as their 2nd best player this season.

That’s not to pick on Barksdale, just how things can unfold.

Not everyone on this list will make a major impact as a FR. But to take a stab at some kids who were overlooked and came on late, here’s a group I will have my eye on as their careers progress:

Marshall Wood, Virginia Tech – Well, maybe I will pick on Barksdale because this kid is coming for his minutes at the stretch 4 spot at Va Tech under new coach James Johnson. Wood is an athletic 6’8 wing whose body needs to fill out but he offers a ton of upside while according to those around the program a high basketball IQ with the ability to shoot the ball. Similar to Whittington he did not participate much on he AAU circuit and he offers great length and ideally will play the wing as time goes on but for now Va Tech envisions him playing the 4 spot next to Erick Green, Robert Brown and Jarrell Edie. Wood had interest from Michigan, Richmond, VCU – staffs that evaluate talent well – before Seth Greenberg scooped him up. Wood was the most impressive Hokie at their intrasquad scrimmage this past weekend.

Nick Banyard, New Mexico – Banyard is a solid 6’8 PF out of Texas (and travel teammate of Marcus Smart) that Steve Alford landed while Banyard had interest from Minnesota, Marquette and Missouri. Banyard has been a nice fall surprise for Lobo fans as he looks better than advertised and will push for minutes early on. While he may not start at the beginning of the year like some Lobo fans suggest he should see his playing time increase as he offers more upside than New Mexico’s other front court options. Banyard can play face up at hit a jumpshot but is athletic and strong enough to play PF comfortably and finish around the rim.

Anthony Perez, Ole Miss – Cheating here as Perez did crack a couple Top 150 lists, but still not a household name. Perez is a 6’9 wing that Andy Kennedy has said would be their 3rd string PG right now if need be. That type of versatility bodes well for Perez as well as having participated on the Venezuelan National Team. Perez had interest from Kansas State and Georgetown as well as offers from Providence and Wake Forest. A common theme with wings that emerge late, Perez must get stronger. But his ball skills are impressive as well as his shooting ability at 6’9 and can make a jack of all trades impact on a veteran Ole Miss team this season.

Seth Allen, Maryland – Mark Turgeon beat out UVA to land his first commit at Maryland and he can turn out to be a good one. Allen jumps out at you (literally) at only 6’2 as a combo guard. 6’2 combo guards aren’t my favorite type of prospects but Allen’s athletic ability coupled with an ability to shoot the ball as a left hander is tough to ignore. Allen caught fire his JR year and into the spring of 2011 resulting in going from a totally off the radar prospect to one of the better players in Virginia. Allen still isn’t a considered a Top 150 kid, but I would find a spot for him in there. He should push both Pe’Shon Howard and Nick Faust for playing time.

Jordan Loveridge, Utah – Loveridge did enter ESPN’s Top 100 at #97, but maybe the lowest profile guy of the bunch hailing from the state of Utah. Larry Krystkowiak landed a monumental recruit for his program when he beat out BYU and interest from Arizona for Loveridge. Loveridge is a hybrid forward at 6’6 with a non-stop motor. If Loveridge was closer to 6’8/6’9 he’d have been courted by high, high major programs. A deceptive athlete with a reported high hoops IQ, Loveridge will start from Day 1 and likely post great numbers throughout his career. Already in Utah’s off-season trip Loveridge showed his promise, leading the team in points and rebounds.

Olivier Hanlan, BC – Hanlan is a Canadian import that is giving Steve Donahue and BC fans reason for optimism (there aren’t many). Donahue landed Hanlan in the fall of 2011 beating out Va Tech and Dayton for his services. Hanlan has great size at the PG position at a solid, well-built 6’3. Donahue went as far as to tell Blue Ribbon Yearbook that Hanlan may be BC’s best player when ‘it’s all said and done’ and he expects Hanlan to turn into an elite ACC point guard. Hanlan was sold on the success of former Eagle PG, Reggie Jackson.

Big East Predictions and Awards

Upon the Big East schedule release, here’s some thoughts:

First, projected order:

1. Louisville

Experienced, talented, balanced and well coached. Is there anything they don’t have?

Point guard who can distribute and pressure ball handlers? Siva. Check.

Off guard who can get his own shot? Russ Smith. Check.

Wing who can spread the floor with shooting? Wayne Blackshear. Check.

Low post scorer and rebounder? Chane Behanan. Check.

Defensive presence in the paint? Gorgui Dieng. Check.

Depth with backups at every spot? Kevin Ware, Luke Hancock, Mike Marra, Montrezl Harrell, Zach Price. Check.

Hall of Fame Coach who still is energized (and likely even more so this season)? Check.

Not only my #1 team in the league, but the country.

Louisville is superior to any team in this league, I truly believe that. From there, 2 through 6 is a mess in mind. It could go any way:

2. Syracuse

Why they finish 2nd: Brandon Triche is one of the better guards in the league and Michael Carter-Williams emerges as a big time player. Boeheim finds combinations across his front line that work to cover the need for a third perimeter player. DaJuan Coleman brings a low-post scoring option that Syracuse was void of last season. The 2-3 zone offers even more length this season. Is that it? I think that’s it, MCW better be the real deal or else..

Why they finish 6th: Well, are they that loaded? Everyone has penciled them in for a 2nd place finish and while I’m doing the same it’s quite murky to me. They only have 3 scholarship guards, they don’t have a returning forward who can get his own shot and the three headed player at center could be tough to juggle. Triche will be solid, we know that. But is Michael Carter-Williams absolutely destined to break out? Can we at least see him in action first? The third perimeter spot is a conundrum. CJ Fair is much more of a face up 4 man than a small forward. The last time you saw him put the ball on the floor or knock down a 3 point shot? Exactly. However, he is crafty so long as defenses focuses their attention elsewhere. Unfortunately for him he will not have that luxury this year to get open 8-15 foot jumpers. James Southerland is a one trick pony at the small forward position and he can not get his own shot, either. Jerami Grant can’t shoot as of now. DaJuan Coleman will need to be a horse down low and provide scoring as manufacturing points and opens shots could be a struggle.

3. Marquette

Why they finish 2nd: Quality players across the board. Not many Big East teams will be able to have a top 7 of legitimate Big East starters like Marquette has. Cadougan, Blue, Mayo, Lockett, Wilson, Gardner and Otule provide Marquette with likely the best bench in the conference short of Louisville depending on the lineup Buzz goes with.

Why they finish 6th: Limited upside. Lockett should prove to be their best player, but I’d only describe him as ‘solid’ along with the other top 7 to some degree. Plus, someone has to make shots to spread the floor. Lockett and Mayo are the best bets to do so and they better because Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan are not capable of doing so.

4. Georgetown

Why they finish 2nd: They have Otto Porter. It could be as simple as that. To go along with Otto, Greg Whittington could be a breakout candidate and form the best 1-2 wing duo in the league on both ends of the floor. Other sophomores, Jabril Trawick and Mikael Hopkins hold plenty of promise. Stephen Domingo and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera hopefully bring a scoring/shooting punch and depth.

Why they finish 6th: Nate Lubick seemingly took a step back last season and Markel Starks did not make the jump many expected. As good as Otto Porter may be, questions surround the supporting cast and in particular, the 5 man position, which has proven vital to JTIII’s system.

5. Notre Dame

Why they finish 2nd: There’s a whole lot back. All 5 starters are back plus Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman to provide more size and incoming Cameron Biedscheid to give more pop on the perimeter. Either one could make Mike Brey less reliant on Scott Martin which would be a positive. Pat Connaughton is one of the hidden gems of the conference in my opinion, a big time athlete that also can shoot the ball.

Why they finish 6th: They have Scott Martin. Okay, seriously – Mike Brey does have a lot of perimeter talent again and one has to wonder if he reverts back to his roots and pushes the pace again and in turn, they suffer defensively. Yet we would all win because ‘Burn’ was the worst thing to happen to this league until the South Florida version came along last year.

6. Cincinnati

Why they finish 2nd: Sean Kilpatrick should be the most feared scorer in this league. Pair him with Cashmere Wright and Jaquon Parker again and UC should be set up very well on the wing. Justin Jackson may not be the most skilled player but he finds a way to impact games. Dion Dixon won’t be attempting 180 threes at a 26% clip and to be honest, I’m just sick of this program proving me wrong the past two seasons.

Why they finish 6th: Can ‘small ball’ work without any interior presence? They did manage without Yancy Gates at times last year but that included 4 good guards, this year I only see 3 on paper so that changes the dynamics of it all. Depth has to be a concern.

7. Pitt

If they annoyingly finish higher than this in their final year I would not be surprised. A lot of parts return and let’s be honest, Gibbs and Nasir Robinson were extremely limited and ‘system’ guys. They’re certainly not losing a talent trade off there, just certain skills (such as Gibbs shooting or Robinson operating as a passer on the interior). Woodall/Moore/Patterson/Zanna/Taylor with Adams certainly doesn’t seem terrible on paper. I still don’t see much athleticism or quickness to improve things defensively but Woodall + the usual offensive rebounding will manufacture points and wins.

8. Uconn

Sounds surprising after the chaos that has taken place in Storrs but I don’t think it’s far fetched to see a 7th or 8th place finish out of Uconn. Things are simplified by default this year and that can be a positive. Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier and Omar Calhoun form a very good three guard lineup. Be it Marquette, Villanova or Cincinnati – we’ve seen Big East teams go small and find success, and this trio should do very well. DeAndre Daniels has reportedly worked extremely hard this off-season and offers a face up 4 man to go along with the guards and Tyler Olander returns for his junior year up front. It will take an unorthodox approach this season in Storrs but all is not lost. (Just a chance at post-season play)

9. St John’s

A bit bold here but there are parts to make this thing work. D’Angelo Harrison will score the ball and Pointer, Garrett and Sampson will defend. God’s Gift gets some relief down low with Obepka. There is at least legitimate talent and athletes here. Mike Dunlap is a significant loss as far as X’s and O’s go but I like this team more than the bottom of the league due to versatility and athleticism.

10. Villanova

Some working parts here as Pinkston and Yarou are a nice duo to go along with supplementary parts in Bell, Sutton and Chennault. Can Ty Johnson regain his High School form? Can Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono make an impact? Pinkston and Yarou can only do so much, a 3rd impact player must step up. Conversely, can Jay Wright direct a team which is best suited to work inside-out?

11. South Florida

I’m just not a believer that last year’s success can be carried over. They hit the brakes on everything and moved at a snails pace and relied on just being bigger and longer than everyone they played. Now they’ve lost Anderson, Gilchrist and Robertson while Waverly Austin was not admitted to school. It goes from a giant of a team to a rather average sized collection of players with only one player returning that can shoot the ball (Fitzpatrick). If Abdul-Aleem and Kore White are solid additions, this certainly could be a low projection but for now I do not see things carrying over.

12. Seton Hall

I feel like this is low because Kevin Willard demands his teams defend and they usually do. Aaron Cosby, Brandon Mobley and Fuquan Edwin are all players I like. Auda and incoming transfer Gene Teague must be able to hold things down inside. I’m not quite sold that Cosby can handle full time PG duties but if he can, this projection is low. There was so much reliance on the Theodore/Pope combo that this team will need some watching to see how the transition into a new era goes.

13. Rutgers

The trio of sophomore guards (Mack, Seagers, Carter) plus Wally Judge makes Rutgers an interesting watch this year. Gil Biruta transferring out was a significant loss, had he stayed RU was poised to make a jump. Now, just trying to patch a hole in the middle and hope the guards get hot in the RAC for a few games. (Likely, but not for more than 4-5 games)

14. DePaul – West Virginia at least guaranteed a 16 wouldn’t be next to their name this time around but I think they can scrape the way out of the basement entirely. Young/Crockett/Melvin is at least a trio that produced last season. Style of play is always bound to catch 1 or 2 teams off guard at home.

15. Providence - No Rick Ledo for the season and no Kris Dunn until at least late December. Gerard Coleman transferred out so it’s slim pickings for Ed Cooley. Council and Henton can play but beyond that it’s cringe worthy. But, I’m still on the Cooley bandwagon. Just a rough year set up for him, as was last year.

AWARDS:

Player Of The Year:

Otto Porter

Coach Of The Year:

Honestly, I have no idea. So we’ll go Pitino here.

Freshman Of The Year:

Omar Calhoun

First Team All Big East:

G – Vincent Council - Bad team, big numbers and I don’t mean that negatively. It’s just the way it will be but Council is a talented lead guard.

G – Sean Kilpatrick - Pure scorer but not a black hole. Not sure he can go left, but not sure it matters.

F – Otto Porter - Points, rebounds (lots of them), deflections, steals, blocks. Just makes plays. When Otto took 11 shots or more he never shot less than 50%. Expanded role, expanded production.

F – Chane Behanan - Can I go Rothstein on you? Reminds me of Ryan Gomes. And Ryan Gomes ended up an All-American. Behanan is on the same path if he sticks around.

C – Gorgui Dieng -
Only getting better. Known for defensive presence but also rebounds very well and sneaky skilled on offense (not a total mess).

Second Team All Big East

G – Ryan Boatright - If he’s a 1st team caliber performer by year’s end I won’t be surprised. Big time talent and will be relied on heavily.

G – D’Angelo Harrison - Ditto. But god, he can be annoying.

G – Jerian Grant - A stat that most probably don’t know, Grant averaged 5 assists last year playing largely off the ball next to Atkins.

F – Trent Lockett - Solid all around player and Marquette should serve him well.

C – Jack Cooley - He’s a goof, but a productive one in a league missing quality bigs.


Third Team All Big East:

G – Brandon Triche - We have to get someone from Syracuse on here, right? Triche is the best for the time being.

G – Peyton Siva - Does he drive his fan-base as crazy as I think he would? The hope is a senior season should lead to consistency.

G – Shabazz Napier - Definitely drives his and other fan-bases crazy, but he actually was still pretty good last year. He’s just not Kemba (but don’t tell him).

F – LaDontae Henton - Sneaky good, just finds a way to score the basketball. Poor Northeastern man’s version of DeShaun Thomas. (Rothsteined).

F – Cleveland Melvin - Bad team, big numbers guy but DePaul should be slightly improved. Just stop shooting jump shots, Cleveland.

F- Fuquan Edwin - An additional 6th spot here to squeeze everyone in. Edwin is really good. 3 steals a game (!) and improving offense.

All Rookie Team:

Kris Dunn - Hopefully back for the start of conference play. Lord knows Providence needs him.

Omar Calhoun - Will bring a calming presence to Uconn and be provided with plenty of opportunity.

Jakarr Sampson - Should give some juice to the SJU program. Fun to watch on defense and in transition.

DaJuan Coleman - In shape or not? If he is, there will be production. He is a load.

Steven Adams - Don’t buy the hype completely but he’ll play and Pitt bigs have had good freshman years before (Chris Taft, DeJuan Blair).

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