Why Lavar Ball Doesn’t Matter

Lavar Ball has been making far more headlines than his son lately. In the past week he has been hyping up the playing ability of his three sons, bragging about the Ball brand and claiming that he could have beaten Michael Jordan in a game of one on one. The media can’t get enough of him.

Unfortunately for his oldest son Lonzo, his father’s press seems to be having a negative impact on the perception towards him. It has now gotten to the point where some people are questioning whether Lonzo’s draft stock may be hurt by his father.

Quite simply, that is crazy. Lavar Ball has been overzealous, arrogant and flat out wrong over the past few weeks. But, there is no reason that the comments he made should impact how Lonzo is viewed as an NBA prospect.

Lavar Ball (Photo courtesy: youtube.com)

Suns head coach and former UCLA point guard Earl Watson made some interesting comments about the Balls. Watson claimed that Lonzo is the exact opposite of his father, and that he just wants to play basketball. Lonzo himself made a similar comment when he stated, “My dad is who he is, I just got play basketball, I can’t worry about who he is.”

Ball’s teammate Bryce Alford had high praise about Lonzo’s mindset and off court presence earlier in the season. Alford said, “For someone who has that kind of hype around him, he does an unbelievable job of handling it and keeping himself humble.” Lonzo also started the season by stating his mindset when he said, “Just basically play like you haven’t made it yet . . . I haven’t made a name for myself yet, so I have to go out there and prove myself.”

Despite his father’s comments, Lonzo Ball has done nothing but prove that he is a humble guy, and that his focus is foremost on basketball. He has helped execute a swift turnaround of the UCLA basketball program and has been leading am outstanding team into the tournament. Regardless of the buzz surrounding his father, teams should not hesitate to add Ball come draft day.

However, players are already saying that they want to face Lonzo, and there is always a risk of his teammates not getting along with him. If he truly is as humble as his UCLA teammates say he is, that should not be a problem. Also, there’s nothing that can’t be proven with hard work and talent. Those are two things that Lonzo seems to possess.

Of course, there is always the problem of the hype surrounding Lavar Ball to create unnecessary attention for an NBA team. Guys in other sports like Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel have created attention that has caused trouble for their teams.

If Lonzo truly possesses NBA level talent, that problem won’t persist. Proof of that lies in somebody like Bryce Harper. Harper came into the league with a lot of hype surrounding him, and his attitude and arrogance drew even more attention to him and his team. After two outstanding seasons and an MVP award, all criticisms of Harper’s attitude seem to have faded.

In the case of Lonzo Ball, teams will be quick to forget about his father if he can prove his talent. No matter how much Lavar Ball runs his mouth, Lonzo can leave it on the court.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Five Lessons from Feast Week 2016

Thanksgiving week is a time for family, food, football and of course basketball! Over the past week, dozens of NCAA teams have made apparent their strengths and weaknesses. Here are the five most important insights that fans can pull from the plethora of Feast Week tournaments:

The Tar Heels are Elite

North Carolina won a not so climactic Maui Invitational and moved to 7-0. They won it with an average margin of victory of 30 points. Granted, one of those games was against Division II opponent Chaminade. Despite that, they obliterated the two Division I teams they faced, Oklahoma State and Wisconsin, by 32 and 15 points respectively.

These are not normal, run-of-the-mill teams. Wisconsin was on the preseason top ten list for many behind Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. Jawun Evans leads the Oklahoma State Cowboys as an elite scorer at 24.7 points per game. Evans was one of only two Cowboys in double figures against the Tar Heels.

Freshman Tony Bradley (5) is an excellent back-up for Kennedy Meeks. (Photo courtesy of newsobserver.com)

Freshman Tony Bradley (5) is an excellent back-up for Kennedy Meeks. (Photo courtesy of newsobserver.com)

North Carolina currently has five players averaging over ten points per game. They can spread the ball well and do not rely on one player to stay above water. Returnees Kennedy Meeks, Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson and Isaiah Hicks have made it business as usual for Roy Williams. Five star recruit Tony Bradley is a nice addition at 10.7 points per contest and 6.3 rebounds.

This is a very long Tar Heel team that possesses the ability to frustrate defenses by tipping balls away. Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks dominate the boards, keeping teams from getting too many second chance points. Each also possesses the ability to protect the rim with good size and length. North Carolina is not one-dimensional.  They are a threat to the two-headed monster of Duke and Kentucky come Phoenix in April. Their next test is Wednesday against Indiana.

Oregon is a Work in Progress

Dana Altman’s team was elite last year, achieving a one seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. With the big three returning for the Ducks, fans and analysts expected much of the same. With the early pre-season injury to Dillon Brooks, that has not been the case.

At the Maui Invitational, the Ducks dropped their first game to the Georgetown Hoyas. Rodney Pryor had 26 points and 10 rebounds for a stellar offensive performance against the Ducks. Despite that, Oregon’s problem has been offense, not defense. With Brooks still not at 100 percent, the team has struggled to put up points while holding every opponent below 70. That is including an overtime game against Tennessee.

Chris Boucher (25) had 13 blocks in three games at tghe Maui Invitational. (Photo courtesy of fox5vegas.com)

Chris Boucher (25) had 13 blocks in three games at the Maui Invitational. (Photo courtesy of fox5vegas.com)

Chris Boucher is the face of Oregon’s defense. He averages a whopping 3.0 blocks per game so far after setting the school record in 2015-16 with 110. As a side note, Boucher also leads the team with 15.0 points per game. That should change as Brooks transitions back into the line-up. As of now, Brooks has only 18.7 minutes per game. The most he has played all year is 25 against Tennessee which included overtime.

The bright spot in all of this is the development for the Ducks players in Brooks’ absence. Freshman Payton Pritchard has amassed a mountain of minutes, getting used to the collegiate game speed. His 29.7% three point mark is not the best but this should rise. As Pritchard’s role decreases and Brooks gets back into the swing of things, the freshman will see better looks with less defensive attention.

Despite the Ducks dropping a game to Georgetown and struggling against the Volunteers they showed some promise during Feast Week. Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey are each looking like their old selves, Brooks is settling in, and the Ducks have proven the ability to gnash their way to a win in a physical game. As Altman’s boys continue to mesh, watch for them to climb back up in the rankings.

 

Virginia Maintaining Identity without Austin Nichols

Examples of things that are certain in life: death, taxes and the Virginia Cavaliers as a defensive based team. Tony Bennett coaches this team year after year to the same sort of style. This year he has the added stress of doing it without key transfer Austin Nichols. Nichols played in only one game before being released by the team. He had previously violated team rules in October.

Virginia took down Providence for the Emerald Coast Classic Championship. (Photo courtesy of washingtonpost.com)

Virginia took down Providence for the Emerald Coast Classic Championship. (Photo courtesy of washingtonpost.com)

Regardless of the reasons for his dismissal, Virginia still looks like the top tier team that they have been over the past few years. Since Nichol’s discharge, the Cavaliers have been nothing short of brilliant. The team’s Feast Week exploits consisted of a dominating performance at the Emerald Coast Classic. They held their opponents to 42.3 points over the three game span of the tournament. While Grambling State is lesser competition, Iowa and Providence do not operate in the same category.

Better yet for the Emerald Coast champs are the two contests they played outside of Feast Week show their consistency. Virginia held Yale and St. Francis (NY) to under 40 points. Their points allowed average since Nichol’s left is 39.4 points.

The one detriment to the Cavaliers is that they do not score. Their 72.8 points per game through six games ranks them 214th in the NCAA. The only game which holds that average above water is the 90 point showing against Grambling State. Additionally only one player averages double figures in scoring: Darius Thompson at exactly 10.0 points per game. Virginia does play ten players, but they need someone to step up. Balance is great but they have no go-to player at this point. London Parrentes should turn into that player at some point this season.

UCLA is an Offensive Juggernaut

Okay, so with the exception of Texas A&M, UCLA has not exactly played anyone yet. Still, the offensive accomplishments and efficiency the team has put together is daunting. Putting up the numbers they have against anyone is impressive.

Lonzo Ball (2) has been one of the most impressive freshman in the country. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

Lonzo Ball (2) has been one of the most impressive freshman in the country. (Photo courtesy of usatoday.com)

Lonzo Ball is the major recruit of this class for Steve Alford and he has not disappointed. Nothing short of brilliant, he averages 16.0 points, 9.1 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game.  Nearly averaging a double-double as a freshman is impressive. What about having two freshman nearly averaging a double-double on the same team? T.J. Leaf was the other stellar recruit for the Bruins and he sits at  17.1 points (leading the team), 8.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

Additionally, four other players are averaging double-digit scoring figures totaling six for the team as a whole. Bryce Alford is second on the team with 17.0 points per game. He also is first in shots made from behind the arc with 19 and is shooting at 44.2%.

There is a laundry list of personal accomplishments, but the team’s overall statistics are the most astounding. Through six games the team is second in the nation in field goal percentage, sixth in three point percentage and first in total assists. They average 96.9 points per game. UCLA has 249 made field goals and 169 assists meaning they assist on 67.8% of their baskets. Not only are they extremely efficient, but they also share the ball well.  That should be more than apparent with the aforementioned six players in double figures.

NCAA Champions Points Per Game
Year Team Points Forced Points Allowed
2015-16 Villanova 78.0 63.6
2014-15 Duke 79.3 64.2
2013-14 UConn 71.8 63.2
2012-13 Louisville 74.5 58.8
2011-12 Kentucky 77.4 60.6
*UCLA 96.9 Forced, 75.3 Allowed

The one caveat would be the lack of defensive efficiency. Sure, the team does not rely on one player for its scoring. However, they currently allow 75.3 points per game. They may have a high powered offense, but their defense needs to improve when they do hit the tougher schedule. Generally, championship teams do not allow that many points.

The Bruins won a lackluster Wooden Legacy tournament during Feast Week. The only game that caused them any trouble was the grind-it-out match-up Texas A&M. The Aggies have some surprising new faces contributing, but are not of the same caliber as the Bruins. December 3rd they will face Kentucky in Lexington. This will be the first true test for Alford and company.

Michigan State is Still Difficult to Trust

Tom Izzo’s teams are the epitome of March basketball. Right now they are searching for a legitimate identity. Between a rough early schedule and some early individual struggles the Spartans they have yet to establish consistency.

Michigan State started off the year 0-2 after a last second loss to Arizona and a less than stellar performance against Kentucky. After a 100 point performance against Mississippi Valley State, the Spartans won a controversial game against Florida Gulf Coast 78-77.

Miles Bridges (22) is the most dynamic athlete for the Spartans. (Photo courtesy of zagsblog.com)

Miles Bridges (22) is the most dynamic athlete for the Spartans. (Photo courtesy of zagsblog.com)

Tom Izzo’s squad spent their Feast Week at the Battle 4 Atlantis. They took down St. John’s 73-62 to start. They were then dominated by Baylor 73-58. Miles Bridges was the only player in double figures for the Spartans with 15 points. Bridges is the highest rated member of a stellar Spartan recruiting class. Bridges has had some up and down games, including struggles against Kentucky and Florida Gulf Coast, but is still the team’s leading scorer at 17.4 points per game. His dynamic athleticism has him averaging 1.7 blocks per game and defensive win shares. Bridges decision making is still a point of weakness with 3.4 turnovers per contest, also leading the team.

Michigan State finished up with a 77-72 win against Wichita State, but the Shockers nearly willed their way to a win in this one. Bridges led the team with 21 points, but this time four other players also achieved double figures. Senior Eron Harris, a West Virginia transfer, has had the most inconsistent year. In the contests against Arizona, Kentucky and Baylor this year he averaged 4.0 points. On the flip side he had 31 against FGCU. The Spartans will need Harris this year to have a deep tournament run and find some sort of team identity.

On the Rise: UCLA Bruins

The UCLA Bruins are on the short list of possible teams to have a big come back in 2016-17. They absolutely should be. The 2015-16 Bruins went 15-17 in a PAC-12 that under performed in the tournament. For that reason, many analysts are writing them off. However, this season will be completely different. From top to bottom of the situation the Bruins will improve in the 2016-17 season.

To begin, the Bruins are led by a coach who has established a culture of winning at each landing spot. He may be on the hot seat this year after a poor performance last season, but there is little to worry about in terms of him turning things around. This was Steve Alford’s first losing season since 1999-00, his first year with Iowa. The following year his team went 23-12 and won the Big 10 tournament. He is in a better situation now than he was then considering the current roster.

UCLA Under Steve Alford
Year Record Result
2015-16 15-17 N/A
2014-15 22-14 Sweet 16
2013-14 28-9 Sweet 16

UCLA went 22-14 in 2014-15 and returned majority of their roster for the following year. They did lose Kevon Looney and Norman Powell, each now in the NBA. However they returned starters from both the front court and the back court. UCLA should have been a lot better than 15-17 considering they added two four-star recruits.

This year the only notable losses are big man Tony Parker to graduation and Jonah Bolden. Bolden made the decision to play basketball professionally in Australia. Despite these losses, UCLA still has remaining parts from a 2014-15 winning campaign and the talent on this roster is worth noting.

Bryce Alford was UCLA’s second leading scorer and had a PER of 17.6. (Photo courtesy of dailybruin.com)

Leading scorer Isaac Hamilton showed increases in every major statistical category. He averaged 16.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. Right behind him was Bryce Alford, Steve Alford’s son. Bryce’s totals remained much the same in the Bruins first losing season since 2009-10. Thomas Welsh’s contributions skyrocketed from those of 2014-15. He doubled his rebounding totals from 3.8 per game to 8.5 and tripled his scoring average from 3.8 points per game to 11.2.

In addition to the pieces left over from the previous winning season, the 2015 recruiting class progressed immensely. Aaron Holiday played significant minutes as a freshman and was a main contributor on the offensive end. The freshman led the team in steals as well showing his versatility. Prince Ali also saw more than 10 minutes of floor time each contest with decent returns. Each of these four star recruits is primed to be a contributor in what will be a large turnaround in win totals this season.

There is even more to be excited about in the outlook for UCLA. They add the top rated point guard in the class, Lonzo Ball, as well as 5-star TJ Leaf and 4-star Ike Anigbogu.  Ball’s court vision and passing ability should greatly assist in opening up the court for his teammates. So despite the Bruins’ losing two players, this top 10 recruiting class is power-packed with talent and play makers to fill the void.

There is a lot to like about this team. They have a coach that wins. They have remaining pieces and leaders that know how to win. Their young talent showed progression last year. Finally, they add some exciting new pieces. Despite the juggernaut that is Oregon, this is a team that will have a huge turnaround. This is a 25-win team. They should not settle for anything less than that.