Phoenix Suns NBA draft

Phoenix Suns 2017 NBA Draft profile

Day four of 2017 NBA Draftmas discusses the Phoenix Suns. Let’s break down the Sun’s season and what their draft needs are.

Summary

Phoenix Suns NBA draft

Devin Booker lead a high-powered offense in Phoenix, but defense still needs a lot of work. (Photo: Jennifer Stewart/USA TODAY Sports)

It has been a rough several years for the Suns. The last time they made the postseason was 2010 when the team was led by Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.

The last time Phoenix finished with a winning record was during the 2013-14 season when they went 48-34 and still managed to miss the playoffs due to an extremely competitive Western Conference.

This season, Phoenix finished with the second-worst record in the NBA. There haven’t been too many exciting things happening in Phoenix lately, except for the offense, which is lead by its young backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker.

The offense this season was solid. Phoenix ranked ninth in the NBA in points per game at 107.7. Booker averaged 22.1 per game and Bledsoe averaged 21.1. T.J. Warren, Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss also chipped in a combined 34.6 points per game. Phoenix can definitely put the ball in the basket.

The problem in Phoenix was defense. Phoenix ranked dead last in opponent points per game at 113.3, giving them a point differential of -5.6. In fact, Phoenix has not had a positive point differential since their last postseason birth in 2010. This simply cannot continue.

If Phoenix is ever going to turn its franchise around, they need to improve defensively. That negative point differential has gone on too long.

PHOENIX suns nba draft Picks & Needs

 The Suns have three picks in this draft, one in the first round and two in the second.

First Round: No. 4

Second Round: No. 32, No. 54

Phoenix seems set on offense. They need to address their defensive issue in this draft. Their first-round pick will be used on a two-way talent, while the second round can be used on guys to help cut down on the amount of points the Suns allow.

Targets & Thoughts

 Pick #4: Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas

Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball seem to be a sure thing at picks one and two. The 76ers will most likely add to their backcourt as their frontcourt seems set with Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Jahlil Okafor. That leaves Jackson available at the fourth pick, and Phoenix should most definitely take advantage.

Jackson is a two-way talent that could thrive in Phoenix. In his one year at Kansas he averaged 16.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and three assists per game.

Phoenix Suns NBA draft

Josh Jackson might be the best two-way player in this draft. (Photo: Getty Images)

The main concern about Jackson is his shooting, despite his field goal percentage being 51.3 percent and his 3-point percentage at 37.8. His form and mechanics are all odd, similar to Lonzo Ball. Not to mention his free-throw percentage is an atrocious 56.6 percent. The shooting definitely needs some work.

Luckily for Jackson, he won’t have to worry about being a primary scorer as Booker and Bledsoe will take care of that. Jackson is not ball-dominant anyway, evidenced by his 12.3 field goal attempts per game while managing to average 16 points.

Jackson plays with energy, which is going to help Phoenix on the defensive side of the ball. Jackson has drawn comparisons to Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard due to his offensive and defensive talent. Jackson is a guy who will dive for loose balls and draw charges. He also had 2.2 steels and 1.4 blocks per 40 minutes.

Jackson is a great fit in Phoenix. He should be able to develop his shot over time. His defensive skills can help the Suns cut down on their points allowed as well. The Suns won’t regret taking Jackson.

Pick #32: D.J. Wilson, PF, Michigan

Wilson was a late bloomer at Michigan. The junior forward went from 6.6 minutes per game last year to 30.4 this year. He averaged 11 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, but really boosted his stock during the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.

In those seven games, the 6-foot-10, 240 pound forward averaged 15.6 points, five rebounds and two blocks per game. Wilson’s size and athleticism help his defensive versatility as he can guard multiple positions on the court.

Wilson also has the potential to be a stretch forward. His season field goal percentage was 53.8 and his 3-point percentage was 37.3.

Wilson needs to improve his strength and post-up game, and his lack of experience also makes him a question mark. However, as a second-round pick, Phoenix only needs him to be a role player. Wilson won’t face too much pressure if that is the case and Phoenix could benefit from his versatility.

Pick #54: Kennedy Meeks, PF/C, North Carolina

Meeks just closed his four-year career at North Carolina with his best season yet. Meeks finished with averages of 12.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

Meeks is mostly known for his rebounding and defensive skills. It is unclear if Meeks will get drafted at this point, but if he is available at pick 54, he might be worth taking a chance on.

Conclusion

 The Suns need defense. They need to address this in the draft, as well as the offseason. Josh Jackson is the best option at the fourth pick. D.J. Wilson and Kennedy Meeks would be other good options to consider in the second round.

Thanks for checking out the Phoenix Suns 2017 NBA Draft profile and tune in tomorrow for day five of NBA Draftmas to see what the Sacramento Kings are going to do.

NBA Draftmas Day 3: Philadelphia 76ers

NBA Draftmas Day 2: Los Angeles Lakers

Featured Image by www.pinsdaddy.com

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Way-Too-Early Top 10 For the 2017-18 Season

The 2016-17 season is officially over after what turned out to be a different season from what most people thought. However, isn’t that always the case?

We expected Duke to rein supreme yet again last year with one of the most talented rosters we had ever seen. They were ESPN’s number one ranked team in the way-too-early top 25 without question. College basketball proved for the millionth time that what is expected to happen never happens.

With seven months until the start of the 2017-18 season, we take a swipe at the way-too-early top 10 for next season.

1. Kentucky Wildcats 

You know the drill. We’ve seen this before. Kentucky’s freshmen stars are going off to the NBA (De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo) and being replaced with another bunch of talented studs. The Wildcats have the number one ranked recruiting class in the country yet again, bringing in five ESPN top 100 recruits. They also will have redshirt freshman Hamidou Diallo.

Even if these new guys don’t turn out to have the same star power as the players they’re replacing, Kentucky has players like Isaiah Briscoe (if he returns), Wenyen Gabriel and Isaac Humphries who could only step into bigger roles.

There’s no reason coach John Calipari and the Wildcats won’t be national title contender with a stacked incoming class and key returning players.

2. North Carolina Tar Heels 

College Basketball

UNC guard Joel Berry II drives in a game earlier this year (Photo/ Google images)

The Tar Heels are losing a significant amount of players, but hold on for a second. They are losing Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt and most likely ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson. However, they’re still UNC.

Many believe Joel Berry II will come back as well as forward Tony Bradley, who is one of the best rebounders in the country. If that’s the case, the Tar Heels would be poised for another late tournament run.

They will also have Elite Eight hero Luke Maye and freshman five-star shooting guard Jalek Felton. Both could have a significant impact on their success.

There are a lot of ifs, but as we’ve seen, Roy Williams can do magical things with ifs.

3. West Virginia Mountaineers

Besides losing seniors Tarik Phillip and Nathan Adrian, press Virginia is back. Guard Jevon Carter will take another offensive leading role, while forcing steals on defense. Forwards Esa Ahmad and Elijah Macon will be crashing the boards and running the floor both defensively and offensively.

With a Kansas team that will lose a lot of key players, could this be the year Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers take the regular season Big 12 title away from Kansas? It could be.

4. Louisville Cardinals

College Basketball

Louisville forward Jaylen Johnson celebrates their victory over Kentucky earlier this year (Photo/ Adam Creech)

Don’t be fooled by the Cardinals short stay in both the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament. They are a prime defensive team and will gain three incoming freshmen from the ESPN top 100 and maintain almost the entire previous group.

 

With the exception of Mangok Mathiang, who is a senior, and Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel, who could leave for the NBA, Louisville is still poised to have another great season in 2017-18. If Mitchell and Adel stay, Louisville will be in a good place.

5. Gonzaga Bulldogs 

Enough is enough, Gonzaga is for real. The nation’s top defensive team will look to replace fifth-year senior Przemek Karnowski. The Bulldogs will hopefully look no further than Zach Collins, who could potentially leave for the NBA.

If Collins does return along with Wooden Award finalist Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga will be extremely good. Josh Perkins, Johnathan Williams, Killian Tillie and Silas Melson also all return to make a dangerous Bulldog team out for redemption.

6. Wichita State Shockers

The Shockers finished 31-5 and managed to jump all the way up to 15th in the BPI. It looks like they’re just getting started.

After they were given a 10 seed in the tournament, which many believed was highway robbery, the Shockers lost to Kentucky by one bucket in the round of 32. Don’t let that fool you.

Landry Shamet, who could possibly be the most underrated point guard in the country, along side sharp shooter Conner Frankamp, could take the team on another tournament run. This time they won’t be considered a Cinderella.

7. Florida Gators

College Basketball

Florida guard Chris Chiozza hits a game winning shot in Florida’s Sweet 16 victory over Wisconsin (Photo/ Courtney Culbreath)

The Gators are returning one of the best, if not the best, backcourt in the country in KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza. They will look to top their Elite Eight appearance from this year.

Most of the core crew is still intact. They will add a top 10 recruiting class as well as two transfers.

The Gators are dangerous. This could have already been one of the nation’s best teams. With the addition of the incoming freshmen and transfers, they are only getting better. Third-year head coach Mike White doesn’t seem too fazed after following Billy Donovan and the greatest era in Florida basketball.

8. Villanova Wildcats 

Villanova will wave goodbye to a class that helped lift the Wildcats out of their slump in the 2010s, including Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Granted, these two are of major importance and have been throughout their years at Villanova.

However, the Wildcats have an ongoing star guard in Jalen Brunson. They also have Donte DiVincenzo, who improved his numbers immensely from his previous year, and looks to improve them next year as well.

Jay Wright’s team is resilient. What many might believe to be somewhat of a rebuilding year could be another year in the limelight.

9. Kansas Jayhawks

The Jayhawks will lose a lot of players, including national player of the year Frank Mason III and potential top five pick Josh Jackson. That gives room for guard Devonte’ Graham to flourish in an even bigger role.

The Jayhawks return sharp shooter Sviatoslav Mykhailuik on the wing and add top prospects Billy Preston and Udoka Azubuike. They will also add Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, who was one of the top point guards in his class two years ago. Whatever happens, we all know one thing: Kansas will be good. They’re always good.

10. Duke Blue Devils

College Basketball

Duke big man Marques Bolden looks to be the new face of the Blue Devils down low after losing Harry Giles and Amile Jefferson (Photo/ Streeter Lecka)

It won’t be all doom and gloom for the Blue Devils next season. They’re still Duke. However, the Blue Devils are going to lose a lot of players starting with Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, who were their two top prospects from last year. They will also lose senior captains Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones, who have been a source of stability over the past four years.

The Blue Devils do have some top prospects coming in, including Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr. There also rests the possibility of both Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard coming back for another year.

If they both chose to leave, the Blue Devils’ starting line up will most likely have no one older than a sophomore. Either way, don’t ever count out the Blue Devils.

 

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North Carolina and Joel Berry Victorious

North Carolina Wins and Berry Bounced Back

If you haven’t heard, the North Carolina Tar Heels and Joel Berry are National Champions 365 days after losing a heartbreaker to Villanova. Justin Jackson made the go-ahead three point play in the final minutes, and Joel Berry put on a performance. It was not a pretty game, as Gonzaga and UNC combined for 45 fouls and 46 field goals.

Yet, a champion had been crowned.

North Carolina gets the win

This is Roy Williams’ third national title and sixth in Tar Heel history, yet North Carolina didn’t play a great game. They shot 29.4 percent from the three point line, which was very evident in the first half.

North Carolina and Joel Berry Victorious

Joel Berry II celebrates victory over Gonzaga (Photo Courtesy of Sporting News)

The win was a team effort, and players stepped up when they needed to. Isaiah Hicks didn’t play his best against Oregon in the Semifinal, however he added 13 points, which is just above his season average. Speaking of seniors, Kennedy Meeks came up with 10 rebounds for the Tar Heels and was a large presence in the post when he wasn’t in foul trouble.

So what made the difference? UNC grabbed three more offensive rebounds and won the turnover battle 14-4. Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson combined for 38 points while Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski only combined for 24 points for Gonzaga. North Carolina also shot better inside than Gonzaga shot outside. Overall, the Zags had one of their worst offensive showings while the Tar Heels had one of their best defensive performances. Put all of this together and somehow, we have a UNC victory.

The best part for the Tar Heels is they have one more National Championship than Duke. How’s that for bragging rights?

berry got his redemption

It was on this day, just one year ago that Joel Berry II tied the game with Villanova only to lose on a buzzer beater from Kris Jenkins. Needless to say, he has been waiting for this very moment and he didn’t let it slip away. It was a sort of Cinderella moment for him.

North Carolina and Joel Berry Victorious

North Carolina Tar Heels guard Joel Berry II celebrates beating the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the national championship game Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Berry III was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament and when asked about his success, he simply said his teammates had faith in him.

He didn’t just bounce back from last year, he had to bounce back from the previous game against Oregon. Berry II went 2-14 from the field, and 5-9 from the free throw line for a combined 11 points against the Ducks. In other words, he didn’t have the game he wanted but it was enough for his team to be successful.

Fast forward to Monday night, the atmosphere is electric and it’s the junior’s potential last game. Berry went out with a bang to say the least.

He scored 22 points, dished out six assists and threw away only one turnover. Not to mention, he scored or assisted on 34 of 71 points and the Tar Heels came away with a National Title.

As mentioned before, Joel Berry II bounced back, but more importantly North Carolina did.

 

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National Championship

North Carolina vs. Gonzaga: The Game That We Wanted and Needed to See

This year’s national championship may not feature Kansas, Duke or Kentucky. It may not have the potential top pick in the NBA draft and it may not be the championship that sports fans wanted to see. However, it’s the championship that we needed to see.

National Championship

UNC looks to avenge their lose in last years National Championship game afer a last second shot by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins (Photo/Greg Nelson).

It’s the championship that we as kids all dream of playing in. We may not be participating in it, but we get to witness it. Two teams with everything to prove, chasing their dreams of being a national champion.

Granted, both teams are in two very different scenarios. On one side you have UNC coming off of potentially the most devastating loss in national championship history last year. On the other hand you have a Gonzaga team looking to make school history and solidify themselves in college basketball history.

UNC is largely the same team that understandably went sobbing into the locker room after last year’s national championship. After Kris Jenkins of Villanova hit what many to believe to be the most iconic shot in NCAA championship game history, UNC was left devastated. We saw Villanova cutting down the nets, not UNC.

They’re not the only one’s who believe they have something to prove.

Gonzaga’s basketball program has been criticized for not playing in a tough conference. Those on the east coast, who don’t get to see them play on a normal basis, believe the program could be bad for basketball. Now after years and years of Gonzaga disappointment in the NCAA tournament, they are finally here.

A league dominated by the Duke’s and Kentucky’s one-and-done players, UNC and Gonzaga tend to do it a little bit differently.

UNC has six returning key players, all upperclassmen, and all apart of last year’s team. Instead of dwelling on the past, Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, Kennedy Meeks, Nate Britt, Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson continue to look forward.

When asked about last year’s national championship, Pinson said, “It keeps giving us ammo, it makes us want to get here again and again.”

National Championship

Gonzaga players celebrate after their Final Four victory over South Carolina Saturday (Photo/ David J. Phillip).

Gonzaga, on the other hand, has their own motivation factor. Despite the motivation of making school history, the Bulldogs look to their own past for a little motivation.

Gonzaga has players from all over the globe, including Przemek Karnowski from Poland, freshman Rui Hachimura from Japan and Killian Tillie, who is a freshman from France. In order to stay in contact, what else would a bunch of young men in this day in age do? Start a group chat.

Some of it’s inside jokes most people wouldn’t understand. Other times it’s just to stay in touch. It is also for motivation. For instance, junior guard and the leader of this Bulldog team, Nigel Williams-Goss, posted the infamous video of sobbing Adam Morrison after Gonzaga’s loss to UCLA in the Sweet 16 in 2006 and simply wrote “Not this year fellas.”

The tiny Jesuit school versus an all powerful college basketball franchise, it sounds like a David and Goliath scenario. But it’s not.

These are the two best teams in college basketball, and we get it for the last game of college basketball this year. North Carolina is 40 minutes away from redemption. Gonzaga is 40 minutes away from program history. We can’t ask for anything better than that.

 

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Tournament Madness for UNC: Luke Maye's Game-Winner

A Closer Look at Luke Maye: North Carolina’s Hero

One name: Luke Maye.

This isn’t the first name that comes to mind when talking about North Carolina basketball. However, it has been for the past 48 hours. Maye made the game-winning shot to send UNC to the Final Four, while simultaneously ending Kentucky’s season.

If you missed the last shot, you can watch it here. It’s well worth watching.

A quick recap: Kentucky comes down the court and Malik Monk hits a 3-pointer in Maye’s face to tie the game. Then Theo Pinson gets the ball up the court for UNC and pitches it to Maye for the last-second jumper. Rarely do you see two miraculous plays back-to-back like that, but it happened on Sunday.

There is normally discussion about Joel Berry II, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks or Justin Jackson when talking about UNC. The avid watcher might recognize Kenny Williams or Theo Pinson as well, but not Luke Maye.

Maye madness

Luke Maye isn’t your standout player. The sophomore averaged four rebounds and 1.2 assists in 14.4 minutes per game this season. He averaged 5.6 minutes per game as a freshman.

He might be average at the Division I level. However, he joined Christian Laettner and Scottie Reynolds on Sunday as the only players since 1985 to hit a game-winning shot to get into the Final Four. The kid even got a standing ovation at his 8 a.m. class on Monday.

Tournament Madness for UNC: Luke Maye's Game-Winner

Luke Maye shoots the game-winner for the Tar Heels on Sunday (Photo Courtesy of The Comeback)

His best game prior to the tournament was against NC State on Feb 15 when he scored 13 points and made 6 of his 11 shots from the floor. In other words, he hasn’t been consistently “killing it” for the Tar Heels.

However, he has picked the right games to show up for. Maye had a season high of 16 points against Butler and a new season high of 17 against Kentucky.

He might seem like the most unexpected player to win it for the Tar Heels, but Coach Roy Williams had him in for a reason. He shoots 41 percent from 3-point land (the highest on the team). He has only attempted 39 on the season, but he has made those count. He also shoots the fourth highest field goal percentage on the team.

It’s no accident he was on the court. It also isn’t a miracle he made the shot. Nonetheless, he is still a hero.

the tar heels are right where they need to be

As a team, this moment is everything that North Carolina has been working for. Marcus Paige hit a 3-pointer to tie the championship game last year, only for Kris Jenkins to come down and hit a buzzer beater to win it all for Villanova.

The Tar Heels are simply good at what they do. The are ranked first in rebounds per game (they pull down 43.7 per game). They also average 85 points per game (ninth overall) and dish out 18.2 assists per game (ranked third in Division I).

Roy Williams is confident in his team because they have the experience and the talent. This is their 20th Final Four, and they have all the reason to fight.

Isaiah Hicks was asked about their loss to Villanova last season, and he said: “We [were] four seconds away from that. Just to see your dream taken away right in front of you, that’s all the motivation you need. Of course nobody likes to lose, but that one, when you’re right there, all of us, we just need that second chance.”

Hicks and the rest of his teammates want that second chance. At this point, it is in their hands. Only Oregon stands in their way. The guys are playing some quality basketball and unexpected players like Luke Maye are peaking at the right time.

Catch all the action on April 1, 2017 at 8:49 PM ET on CBS.

 

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North Carolina Controls its own Destiny

What a week of college hoops. Duke has found its groove with a big win over Virginia. Louisville barely beat Virginia Tech. Kansas beat Baylor by just two points and Pitt took one from Florida State.

Let me remind all college basketball fans, it is only Feb. 21st. This means the best is still yet to come. Lately all eyes have been on the ACC, and rightfully so.

The ACC should stand for Always (in) Constant Conversation, instead of Atlantic Coast Conference. College basketball is constantly talking about the competition in the ACC and I am going to jump on that bandwagon. This season if any, is proving why it’s one of the toughest conferences to play in. North Carolina sits at the top, but will they still be there in a few weeks?

acc current standings

TEAMCONFOVERALL
North Carolina11-323-5
Louisville10-422-5
Duke10-422-5
Notre Dame10-521-7
Florida State9-521-6
Virginia8-618-8
Miami8-618-8
Syracuse8-616-11
Virginia Tech7-718-8
Georgia Tech6-715-11
Wake Forest6-915-12
Pittsburgh4-1015-12
Clemson4-1014-12
NC State3-1214-14
Boston College2-129-18

As you can see, North Carolina is in first place, by a single win. Louisville and Duke hold second place, and Florida state dropped with its loss to Pitt over the weekend.

The Tar Heels have earned their top ranking position in the conference. They have consistently bounced back after losses to Kentucky and Georgia Tech early, and more recently Miami and Duke. With Baylor’s recent loss to Kansas, there has been talk of a #1 ranking for North Carolina. The best part is that they control their own destiny from here on out.

north carolina men’s basketball has a lot going for them

Justin Jackson has been outstanding from the beginning. His junior season is nothing short of NBA material and the scouts are noticing. Back in mid-December Jackson scored 34 points in a great effort against Kentucky, despite the loss. Now it’s February and Jackson is still improving and playing better than ever.

Against Virginia this weekend he scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half. Jackson was cranking threes from 30+ feet without reservation. That is the kind of production and confidence you want from a leader.

North Carolina Men's Basketball

Justin Jackson gets excited about a play (newsobserver.com)

When Jackson isn’t putting on a show, it’s usually time for Joel Berry II to shine. In a nail-biter against Clemson, Berry II put up 31 points in addition to Jackson’s 18 to clinch the win. In a close win over Pitt, Jackson scored 20 and Berry II added 19. Against Florida State Berry II continuously answered runs by the Seminoles and finished with 26 points, Jackson had 22.

They are the dynamic duo leading the team, but are often lost in the spot light of duos like Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox or Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart.

If those two aren’t scoring, they are dishing the ball to Kennedy Meeks in the post or Isaiah Hicks, who are number one and two in rebounding respectively.

Theo Pinson has also been adding some nice numbers the past few games, and starting for the Tar Heels. When the bench comes in, the Tar Heels still have success. Tony Bradley and Luke Maye contribute good minutes when UNC needs it.

Needless to say, as March is fast approaching the Tar Heels are getting better and have all the right pieces.

Who stands in their way

It might seem like the Tar Heels have a cake walk through the rest of the regular season. This is far from the truth. Justin Jackson and his team still have to play Louisville Wednesday, then take on Pitt and Virginia on the road and finish up with Duke at home.

The scary part for North Carolina is they have everything to lose and their opponents are going to bring the heat. It’s not that their opponents have nothing to lose, but North Carolina definitely has a big weight on their shoulders and target on their back.

North Carolina Men's Basketball

Donovan Mitchell throws down a powerful dunk for Louisville (usatoday.com)

Louisville is first up on the four-game tour. The Cardinals are relatively equal with the Tar Heels in most statistical categories. However, UNC is significantly better at sharing the ball (averaging 18.3 assists per game) which leads to 92.3 points per game, which is also higher than Louisville.

Not to mention the Tar Heels also beat Virginia and Florida State whom Louisville lost to. The best part about college basketball is any team can be beaten on any given night, and this game is no exception.

The Tar Heels have the best for last, because Duke will be waiting on a silver platter for them March 4th. This final regular season game is everything that you want in a big game. A historic rivalry, senior night and two of top teams in the ACC going head to head.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the Tar Heels still have to take care of business in February before there can be talk about March.

tournament talk for north carolina

At least Dicky V has confidence in the Tar Heels. It is clear they have the offensive weapons and have played tough teams to prepare them for March.

The Tar Heels are very highly ranked on various offensive categories. They lead Division I in points per game and field goal percentage. They are third for assists per game and number one for rebounds per game in the nation. The statistics speak for themselves, this North Carolina team controls their own destiny in their ability to perform.

We can only wait and see how they decide to play and where they will be seated after the completion of regular season games.

 

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Here is Your New Year’s Resolution: Watch More College Basketball

So you have not thought of a New Year’s resolution yet? No problem. Here is an easy one for you: watch more college basketball. Not only will this be significantly more enjoyable than anything else you can think up, but you only have to keep it until April! Kick off 2017 with a sense of accomplishment and renewed interest in the sport. There are plenty of reasons for you to watch:

Great Players

Markelle Fultz has is the top freshman prospect thus far this year. (Photo courtesy of espn.com)

This season is jam packed with young talent. There are dozens of players whose mere presence on the court merits tuning in for a game. Perhaps one of the best examples is Washington’s Markelle Fultz. He is currently topping many NBA mock drafts and is widely considered the top overall prospect. Despite the fact that the Huskies are a lackluster 7-5, Fultz makes it worth your time.

He is an elite scorer with 22.0 points per game so far as a freshman while adding 6.2 rebounds and 6.3 assists. He has the size and athleticism of an NBA guard and will surely be a top pick in the draft.  For now, he is a contributor to the attention of college basketball fans.

Other stellar freshman include UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and Kansas’ Josh Jackson. Ball is a lights out shooter with extreme precision. He averages 13.7 points per game, but shoots over 52% from the field and over 42% from deep. He also is one of the nation’s best passers and it shows with his 8.1 assists per game.  Ball uses his lanky size to grab 5.6 rebounds per contest.  There are a few questions about his game, but he is another college player beyond his cohorts and a good reason to make this resolution.

Josh Jackson, in turn, is a freak athlete. Jackson stands at six foot eight and 207 pounds of lean muscle. He has the ability to jump out of the gym. The scary part is that now his shot is coming around.  He is at 52.9% from the field.  His range could use some work, but as a guard averaging 1.5 blocks per game and 6.5 rebounds there is little lacking in his game. He came into the year as the top overall recruit and has lived up to that honor.

Other young players like Jayson Tatum of Duke, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo of Kentucky, Miles Bridges of Michigan State and Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac are coming along nicely. So far this is a deep recruiting class.

Let’s not forget the guys that came back, though. Ivan Rabb makes California games more than watchable. The six foot ten power forward was projected to be a back end lottery pick, but made the decision to return under Cuonzo Martin. Rabb is nearly averaging a double-double with 14.7 points per game and 9.8 rebounds. He supplements those figures by throwing in 1.6 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. The tremendously talented sophomore is the center of the Bears offense and worth this New Year’s Resolution on his own.

Other players that made the tough choice to return, but also are worth watching include Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame, Indiana’s Thomas Bryant and North Carolina’s Justin Jackson.

Great Teams

So tuning in to see one player is not your thing? No problem. There are plenty of great teams to meet anyone’s tastes.

Creighton and Villanova just finished off 2016 with a titanic clash in Omaha. Villanova had several players return after their adrenaline-inducing tournament run. This year there is no hangover from their dramatic finish. Without Ryan Arcidiacono (graduation), Daniel Ochefu (graduation) and Omari Spellman (eligibility) the team is still kicking on all cylinders. The Wildcats move the ball well and have some great finishers in Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins.

Jalen Brunson has been terrific in his new role as the team’s main point guard, leading the team with 4.0 assists per game. Nova has eight players averaging more than 5.7 points per game and that has led them to a team average of nearly 80. Yes, Josh Hart does a lot of the scoring (20.5 points per game) but there is still plenty of unselfishness. Their tenacious defense and deep seeded athleticism has allowed them to be one of the best defensive teams in the country, only giving up 61.5 points per game. Additionally the team is 17th in the nation in turnovers. There is a reason they are the number one team in the land.

Maurice Watson Jr. currently leads the nation in assists per game. (Photo courtesy of foxsports.com)

Despite Creighton losing this game at home by ten, they are still one of the best teams in the country. Creighton was supposed to be good, but the level that they have been playing at is totally unexpected. Before the match-up against Villanova, the Bluejays stood at 8th in the country with a whopping 89.8 points per game. Nine players average more than four points per game.  This team is a lot deeper than last year thanks to transfers Marcus Foster (Kansas State) and Maurice Watson Jr. (Boston). They are now the two leading scorers on the team which has caused some returnees to take a back seat.  This only makes the team deeper than ever. Watson Jr. helps the Creighton offense flow with his 9.1 assists per game. Creighton is 22nd in the nation as a team in assists, which they have on 56% of their made field goals. There are too many contributors to speak about on this team and it is one of the reasons for their success thus far.

There are plenty of other teams worth making a resolution to watch more of. West Virginia and Virginia each have suffocating defenses that keep games tight from beginning to end.  Gonzaga is making a lot of noise out west with a combination of returnees, transfers, and freshman. North Carolina is coming around health wise and now is returning to the form that they were at in Maui. The Tar Heels are an elite team and every game is full of action. Justin Jackson is one of the best players in the country, Kennedy Meeks and freshman Toney Bradley help North Carolina be a top 5 rebounding team in the country and Joel Berry’s return will make this team even better still.

Great Games

The conference season is just beginning and so is your resolution to watch those games. Creighton and Villanova was just one example of the type of game that college basketball has to offer in 2017. There are still plenty of games to come this year.

Duke and North Carolina will face off twice this year, with the first game on February 9th. Their second game is in the final week of the regular season. Both teams are slated to be high seeds come March. These two match-ups will shape the college basketball playing field to see who the best team in the ACC is.

The way things are right now there are several other in conference games with potential.  Kansas and Baylor will square off for the first time February 1st. Despite all of the madness that has transgressed at Baylor this year they have still managed to compile the beginnings of a great basketball season. Kansas boasts some of the top players in the country in Josh Jackson and Frank Mason. An injury to Udoka Azibuke is a set back for the Jayhawks, however, and should make the interior game quite interesting being headed by Landen Lucas who has struggled thus far. Jonathan Motley is a physical presence for the Bears with 9.1 rebounds per game. Miami transfer Manu Lecomete leads the Baylor offense into battle.  he currently averages 5.3 assists and only 1.8 turnovers per game.

As Dillon Brooks returns to form, so do the Oregon Ducks. (Photo courtesy of collegebasketball.ap.org)

UCLA and Oregon will face off again on February 9th.  Their first contest ended with Dillon Brooks hitting a game winning shot and UCLA being dealt their first loss of the season. There is no reason to think that the second chapter will be any less exciting. UCLA is one of the most prolific offenses in the country, averaging 93.9 points per game, second in the country. Had Thomas Welsh not missed some time, the Bruins may still be close to 100 points per game as they were at the beginning of the season. They do not just score, though, they pass as well.  They lead the nation in total assists as a team, doing so on 66.3% of their field goals.  The Ducks, on the other hand, had a slow start after making the top five in many preseason lists. The Ducks lost to Baylor early (which does not look as bad now) and dropped their first game in Maui. They have not lost since.  In addition to their victory over UCLA, they took down the red hot, previously undefeated USC Trojans. The Ducks are beginning to look like the team they were picked to be as star Dillon Brooks returns to 100%.

After the regular season contests are over there will be so much more fun with conference tournaments and that little known tournament labeled March Madness. So if you have not yet made a New Year’s resolution or you would like another one, just put more college basketball on your calendar.

 

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A Blue Christmas: College Basketball is Being Dominated by Teams in Blue

We all know how the lyrics to Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas go: “I’ll have a Blue Christmas without you, I’ll be so blue thinking about you.” After watching a thriller this weekend between two of the top blue teams in the nation, how could one not be thinking about the game between North Carolina and Kentucky? If we are discussing true blue, Duke is definitely in the conversation as well, and let us not forget about Villanova, the #1 team in the nation.

Kentucky Wildcats

Malik Monk takes on Kenny Williams III (review journal.com

Malik Monk takes on Kenny Williams III (review journal.com

Let’s start with the Kentucky Wildcats. There is one name we all need to be concerned with: Malik Monk. If you have not heard, he put up 47 points for the Wildcats with a 64% field goal percentage on the night. He made his final three-pointer to win the game against Coach Calipari’s wishes, who wanted Monk to drive on the last play. He shot it anyway, and Kentucky came away with the win. How is that for some freshman guts?

However, Monk is not the only talent that deserves recognition. De’Aaron Fox added 24 points on Saturday and he is averaging 15.9 PPG on the season. Isaiah Briscoe also added 10 points and Edrice Adebayo contributed 13 points before fouling out.

Kentucky is 10-1 on the season and still has a lot to prove. This is only their second win against a ranked team this year. They beat #13 Michigan State (who is no longer ranked) early on in November and lost to UCLA by 5 points who is led by standout Freshman Lonzo Ball. This is a key win on their resume as they head into conference play in January.

On Wednesday, the Wildcats will take on Louisville which will be another test of their abilities. Kentucky has won the last three in the series against the Cardinals, but the great part about basketball is that anyone can be beaten on any given day.

North Carolina Tar heels

North Carolina's Joel Berry II (goblueridge.net)

North Carolina’s Joel Berry II (goblueridge.net)

Now for the North Carolina Tar Heels, who were equally as impressive, but came up short. Joel Berry II was one point shy of a career high with 23 points. Josh Jackson put up a staggering 34 points and Kennedy Meeks also added 12 points. UNC played a great game, despite the outcome.

The name of the game was free throws and foul trouble. Berry and Meeks fouled out, and the Tar Heels missed seven free throws overall, which would have been the game right there. This is not a large worry for the Tar Heels though. Joel Berry II is just coming back from an ankle injury and they still had good production from their bench (Tony Bradley and Luke Maye added a combined 19 points).

Kentucky’s bench only had five points to add. It also could have been a very different outcome if Kenny Williams’ last second three-pointer hadn’t missed the mark.

This game was March Madness material, so one can only wonder what March will bring and if Malik Monk will be able to create similar performances in the games to come. Joel Berry II will hopefully continue to impress and Josh Jackson has been nothing short of thrilling. I know I will be counting down the days until February 9th when the Tar Heels take on Duke, another top team in blue.

Duke Blue Devils

Our third team up for discussion, the Duke Blue Devils, are 10-1 and the ACC is not going to be a walk in the park this year. Duke will have to take on Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame and of course North Carolina before they can talk about dancing on the big stage come March. Luckily, the combination of Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson has been sufficient to top Michigan State, Florida and Rhode Island early on. They also have Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and Matt Jones who are making an impact, and are some names to definitely keep in mind.

I am reminded that the color blue often symbolizes depth and stability. The Blue Devils embody these characteristics and Coach Mike Krzyzewski brings in some of top recruiting classes each year. The point is, Duke is consistently above average and sports fans can look for that to continue this season as well. They are firing on all cylinders and they have depth that should logistically carry them far into the NCAA tournament.

Villanova Wildcats

Josh Hart of Villanova (fox sports.com)

Josh Hart of Villanova (fox sports.com)

This article would not be complete without mentioning the top-ranked team in the nation, Villanova. They sit at 11-0 and one man is doing most of the dirty work. They are led by Senior, Josh Hart who is averaging 20.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 3.7 APG while shooting 45.3% from behind the arc. Hart is aided by senior Kris Jenkins who is averaging 13.4 PPG and sophomores Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are contributing good numbers as well.

Recall Jenkins is the player who hit the game winning shot against UNC last year to win the National Championship game. Needless to say, these Wildcats have talent and the experience. They also have key wins over Temple and Notre Dame that will only add to their resume when discussing bracketology.

As we approach Christmas, these teams in blue have gotten our attention and will continue to be all the talk leading up to March. It would be a very “blue” Christmas without these teams putting on the performance that they have in preseason matches.

And with that, Merry Christmas to all my fellow college basketball fans, and happy holidays!

 

 

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Indiana Reestablished as Title Contender with Statement Win

Eight days after losing to Fort Wayne in a stunning overtime upset, Indiana had a chance to hit the reset button. The Hoosiers lost on the road to the Mastadons 71-68. They then quietly defeated Mississippi Valley State 85-52 at home.

Justin Blackmon Jr. (left) and the Hoosiers were eager to get back on track from their loss to Fort Wayne (Photo courtesy of insidethehall.com)

Justin Blackmon Jr. (left) and the Hoosiers were eager to get back on track from their loss to Fort Wayne (Photo courtesy of insidethehall.com)

The Hoosiers dropped from number three in the country to 13 with questions looming about their true capabilities. On Wednesday night they had their chance with a huge test against the newly third ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. On top of the fact that Indiana was coming off the loss, there was the storyline of the ACC taking control in this weeks ACC-Big Ten inter-conference challenge.

However, an electric atmosphere rejuvenated Tom Crean’s team. Isiah Thomas’ presence in celebration of the 1981 National Championship team amplified the atmosphere even further. Every big play for Indiana was met with a ruckus applause.

The Hoosiers had a fast start in the first half. Junior guard Robert Johnson was key in helping the team jump out to a 14-7 lead. He assisted on the first basket of the game and had with seven early points of the team’s 14. Johnson finished with 11 points, ten of which came in the first half and were key to Indiana’s momentum.

The seven point deficit would be as close as it got in the first half. North Carolina was completely out of sorts as the Hoosiers took a huge lead at the start. The Tar Heels were out of control, made poor shot choices and ultimately allowed the surroundings of Assembly Hall overcome them.

The crowd was a definite advantage for the Hoosiers and several plays made by James Blackmon Jr. and OG Anunoby brought them to their feet. Anunoby was a big part of Indiana’s 41-29 halftime lead. This included a highlight dunk following a  North Carolina turnover before crossing half court. Anunoby finished the game with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks.

Sophomore Thomas Bryant showed his versatility Wednesday night. (Photo courtesy of indianapolisstar.com)

Sophomore Thomas Bryant showed his versatility Wednesday night. (Photo courtesy of indianapolisstar.com)

The second half opened with much of the same story. Thomas Bryant had a fantastic game with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals. This included several stealthy moves near the basket, showing his agility as well as versatility with a three-point jumper that gave the Hoosiers a 50-38 lead at the 14:03 mark.

To this point the game was all Indiana but North Carolina began to climb back. Justin Jackson quietly had 21 points and 8 rebounds. A three-point shot by Jackson brought the game within five points at 65-60 with 3:28 to go. However as was the story of most of the second half, every time the Tar Heels began to come back, Indiana found a way to widen the gap. OG Anunoby took a pass from below the basket, maneuvered to the opposite side of the hoop via the baseline and slammed it home. At that point with the score 71-60 and with 1:35 to go the game was all but over.  The Tar Heels attempted to foul to extend the game but were unsuccessful in their efforts.

What this means: Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana jumps back into the top 10 with this win next week, provided they take care of business Friday against SIU Edwardsville and Sunday against Southeast Missouri State. Even considering the debacle that was their contest against Fort Wayne these games should give them no difficulty. Tom Crean’s team showed us yesterday what they are truly capable of even though there is the advantage of the game being on their home court in Bloomington.

The Hoosiers moved the ball well, easily penetrating the Tar Heel defense at times.  They also shot the ball well at 48.1% from the field. The Hoosiers responded well each time that North Carolina seemed to climb back in to the game. James Blackmon’s three with 3:44 to go is a perfect example. The Tar Heels had taken control for a few moments but Indiana settled down and Blackmon’s shot started a run.

The Hoosiers had five players in double figures showing that they are not reliant on just one player for their scoring. There is only one key thing to watch and that is OG Anunoby’s ankle. He landed awkwardly after a dunk that extended the Hoosier lead to 11 and juiced up the crowd. On the sideline he had an ice pack on his ankle. This should be a simple ankle roll. A bad injury would be a huge blow to this team right after making a statement about what they are capable of.

What this means: North Carolina Tar Heels

Roy William’s team was unable to control the tempo at times throughout this game. The only players that seemed unflappable were upperclassman Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks. Meeks had a solid game with 10 points and eight rebounds. Yet, even Meeks had his issues this game. He got into early foul trouble and played 25 minutes, the lowest of all starters. Jackson was four of seven from behind the arc. Jackson is the player on this team that has the capability to take over a game if need be.  Everything from his stature to his expressions show that he is the guy, but he was unable to pull his team all the way back.

None of the Tar Heel reserves were able to have a large impact on the game. Luke Maye did return to the floor after missing several games with an ankle injury. He was largely ineffective for the short eight minutes he played. Theo Pinson is still recovering from a stress fracture suffered earlier this offseason. He will provide key minutes to the Tar Heels when he returns.

The team played significantly different from the Maui Invitational Champion Tar Heels. They not only failed to score 70 for the first time all year, but also allowed the most points in a game this year at 76. North Carolina did not shoot well as a team and their defense was weak at times. Offense was frenetic and unorganized at times. There were few attempts to move the ball inside to Meeks or freshman Tony Bradley.

This was the first true road test for North Carolina. Their other games were at home or on a neutral court, the latter including the Maui Championship game they won 71-56 over Wisconsin. The team still has great potential even though they will likely drop out of the top five of the next AP Poll.

An Added Note: Jimmy V Week

As an added note, this game was a part of a series of games in celebration of Jimmy V week.  This celebrates former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano who passed away of cancer. For more information about the Jimmy V Foundation that benefits from the event you can visit their site.

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
YearTeamPoints ForcedPoints Allowed
2015-16Villanova78.063.6
2014-15Duke79.364.2
2013-14UConn71.863.2
2012-13Louisville74.558.8
2011-12Kentucky77.460.6
*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.

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